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Film review: Mr. Holmes - old Sherlock searches his memories in gentle drama

Ian McKellen plays the fictional detective aged 93 and still mulling the doubts and regrets that plagued his younger self

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 3:00pm

The greatest mystery resides not at the crime scene but in the head of the titular detective of Mr. Holmes, which revisits the doubts and regrets plaguing the character in his post-retirement life. An adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s spin-off novel A Slight Trick of the Mind (2005), this character drama by Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 and 2) at times plays like Arthur Conan Doyle by way of Proust.

Holmes is 93 and played with great nuance by Ian McKellen, whose portrayal of another ageing icon – the horror filmmaker James Whale – in Condon’s Gods and Monsters (1998) makes for an intriguing reference point. Long retired to a Sussex farm to tend bees, the famous sleuth with failing memories must now rely on his widowed housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker) to care for him.

Holme’s present is interspersed with flashbacks to two past incidents. The first is his relatively recent visit to post-Hiroshima Japan, with guidance by an admirer named Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), to look for a cure to dementia; while the second – and far more emotionally draining – occasion is Holmes’ last case nearly three decades ago, during which his misjudgment of human psychologies resulted in a seemingly avoidable death.

Without the benefit of Watson’s perspective, Condon’s film revolves gently, if sometimes ploddingly, around Holmes’ psyche as he comes to realise that cold hard truths deduced by rationality sometimes scarcely matter next to the flesh-and-blood humans he personally feels for. Graceful and elegiac, Mr. Holmes is a poignant meditation on mortality that just so happens to feature the world’s greatest detective in the lead.

Mr. Holmes opens on October 22