Review: Ian McKellen Is Remarkable with Another Side of ‘Mr. Holmes’

Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind has finally hit the big screen, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher into “Mr. Holmes.” It stars Ian McKellen (“The Hobbit,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) as the Great Detective at the age of 93. Holmes has long been in retirement in Sussex, tending to bees and contending with the questionable cooking of Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), a war widow. He connects well with Mrs. Munro’s inquisitive son, Roger (Milo Parker).

Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

The game is afoot for Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes in “Mr. Holmes.” Photo: Miramax/Roadside Attractions/BBC Films.

It’s 1947 and Holmes is on the case. Why did his last investigation in 1919 lead him into retirement? He relies first on “royal jelly” from bees and then tries “prickly ash” from Japan as possible remedies for memory loss. It seems a bit top heavy with the visit to Hiroshima, but eventually his encounter with Mr. Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) turns into a small mystery of its own, too.

Since the days of Arthur Conan Doyle, stories have been generated to explore nearly every imaginable facet of Holmes’ life. Delving into Holmes’ love life and his retirement years are of no exception. The somewhat uneven tales from Laurie King perhaps comprise one of the more well-known versions of an older Holmes. Crafting together a Holmes who is perplexed or even annoyed by his literary persona is also nothing new. By the way, did anyone catch Nicholas Rowe (“Young Sherlock Holmes”) as the Matinee Sherlock, a fun parody of the Basil Rathbone era?

Director Bill Condon and Ian McKellen are brilliant at giving us a different side of Holmes, rendering wonderfully the problems of aging and identity. Point-of-view shots and close-ups of McKellen are also presented to get us into the mind of Holmes: smooth and artful panning to the side as he trails Mrs. Kelmot (Hattie Morahan) through 1919 London. It’s quite suddenly broken up by jump cuts while his mind grasps at the tendrils of the fading memories, pulling viewers into the same sense of frustration. Glass surfaces and mirrors are not in short supply either to continue this venture into his consciousness. Was it truly necessary to dispense with the original title, given the tricks that are woven into the plot?

Admittedly, the slower pace all throughout and the intensity of the last third of the film may not be for everyone. (Should it really have been rated PG?) Noticeably missing is Dr. Watson (Colin Starkey), cleverly shown through the haze of the window when he arrives. After that, only the good doctor’s legs and hands are seen. There’s still plenty to keep Sherlockians entertained in the way of Holmes’ deductions and sense of humor, as magnificently captured by Ian McKellen in both the younger and older Holmes. The refreshing honesty of his performance is balanced by that of both Laura Linney and Milo Parker. Undoubtedly, “Mr. Holmes” was worth the wait and promises to be a memorable film for 2015.

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