Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker
Director: Bill Condon
Running Time: 104 mins
Mr. Holmes is a British film about an elderly Sherlock Holmes battling against dementia who tries to remember the story of his complex last case. Meanwhile, in his house in the West Country, he makes friends with his housekeeper’s young son, with whom he shares the stories and lessons of his career as a world-famous detective.
This is a brilliantly absorbing and pleasant film with a fantastically unique take on the classic character of Sherlock Holmes. It may move along at a snail’s pace, but the quiet, slow and almost cosy nature of so much of this film mirrors its approach to portraying the character in a different light, and as it’s more of a character study than a mystery thriller, it’s a very intimate and engrossing watch from start to finish.
Let’s start off with what really makes that all work so well. The central performance by Ian McKellen here is simply stunning, and towers above all of his co-stars at every moment. Fitting in perfectly with the film’s quiet atmosphere, McKellen gives an exceptionally deep and emotional performance as an aged Sherlock Holmes in the calmest manner possible.
This isn’t a showy, Oscar-bait performance, but a masterclass in acting as McKellen portrays the struggle this old man is facing in trying to remember his stellar past in the face of an oncoming illness, but also the incredible intelligence and heart he has. Feeling almost like your grandpa telling you a relaxing yet utterly gripping story, McKellen’s Holmes is utterly mesmerising from start to finish.
And one of the reasons that it’s so easy to feel so close to the character in this film is the directing. Bill Condon does a fantastic job throughout, managing to keep an incredibly slow-moving and quiet character study totally absorbing. The most impressive part of Condon’s directing is how intimate the focus of the film is on Mr. Holmes’ emotions and memories.
In truth, it’s not a character that works just because he’s Sherlock Holmes, but it’s because Condon gives you a full 100 minutes to spend quietly living life alongside this old man, with fascinating stories to tell, and a clearly brilliant intelligence, that you can feel so closely connected, even when there’s no exposition or excessive narration to directly tell you about the character’s feelings, something I felt was a real triumph from this film.
Beyond the directing and central performance, the writing here is very good too. Principally, the adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s novel ‘A Slight Trick Of The Mind’ to the big screen is brilliantly done. It’s so good to see such a unique and different take on one of history’s most overplayed fictional characters. The elderly Holmes is written so well in this film, and brought to life in a far more realistic way than any adaptation of Conan Doyle before it.
From the dialogue to his personality, the screenplay is fully grounded in reality, and as a result means it’s so much easier to focus on Holmes as a real person with feelings than just the clever detective we all know already. The film’s quietest and most intimate moments are the best, and it’s brilliant to see that the writers allowed McKellen and Condon to work so freely in those periods, as it makes for some utterly wonderful and absorbing emotions.
If there is one issue that I find with this film, then it comes in the way the case Holmes is remembering is portrayed. Although an interesting and unpredictable side plot, I felt that it sometimes took a little away from the intimate study of the older character, and, although it’s by no means as intense or rapid as modern mysteries, occasionally interrupted the peace of the story in the current day.
Overall, however, Mr. Holmes is a wonderful film. Fascinating, clever and brilliantly unique, it’s a memorable and gripping watch that works excellently thanks to its directing, realistic writing, and stunning central performance, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.