Last month, we debuted the “Ask the Blogger” series, in which I answer reader questions/review reader-recommended material. This post comes courtesy of Carol Ann, who suggested I review this recent movie because it’s wonderful but under-appreciated.
I actually remember seeing some advertising for this movie when it came out, made a mental note that I should see it, and then forgot about it until I read the request Carol Ann submitted. I’m glad she suggested it because she’s right–it is a great movie that more people should see.
I should probably preface this review by admitting that I am a devoted Sherlock Holmes fan. I’ve loved the character since I was a kid. In fact, I own several different editions of the complete works of Sherlock Holmes, and I’ve read all the stories twice–once in the order they were published and once in a sequence that someone proposed representing the chronology within the stories themselves. (I realize that makes me sound like a complete dork–and there’s some truth to that accusation–but it was actually an interesting experiment in watching a series evolve. I have no regrets.)
Mr. Holmes is not an adaptation of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Instead, it is an adaptation of the 2005 Mitch Cullin novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind–which, incidentally, none of the libraries in our system own, though we can certainly request it via ILL if you’re interested.
I’m often not a fan of non-canonical Holmes stories because I feel like the authors/filmmakers usually exclude all of the things that make a Sherlock story fun, but Mr. Holmes does a wonderful job of presenting its own original mystery that still stays true to the canonical universe Doyle created. In fact, there are multiple intriguing mysteries afoot in this film.
It also helps that it is set much later than most other alternate Holmes stories I’ve encountered. The timeline bounces around quite a bit, but the main focus of the story is set just a couple of years after World War II ends, and features a 93-year-old Holmes. There are still glimpses of the shrewd, witty, perceptive consulting detective we all know and love, but the toll of old age is also readily evident with this Holmes, whose mind is not as sharp as it once was. He’s palpably aware of his fading memory and the fact that his powers of deduction are not what they used to be. It’s a side of Holmes I never really considered, and it’s an interesting, though often heartbreaking, one.
The reality of being a 93-year-old Holmes entails him living in retirement with an exasperated housekeeper and her young son, focusing on his bees, and trying to piece together exactly what happened on his last case. He can’t remember the details, but it was one that so horrified him it made him quit investigating crime altogether. The movie balances the story line with flashbacks to the case in question, which occurred shortly after the end of World War I, as well as flashbacks to a recent trip to Japan, which Holmes undertakes in his desperation to remember more about the case that got away.
Everyone does a wonderful job acting in this movie, but really, any Holmes story is only as good as the person playing Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately, Ian McKellen does a wonderful job in his depiction of Holmes in what amounts to something of a dual role. McKellan is just as convincing in his portrayal of the broken-down 93-year-old version of the character as he is in playing the far spryer 63-year-old Holmes in the flashbacks. The movie also has a lot of fun exploring the scenario of a real life Holmes confronted with the dichotomy of the world perceiving him as the character they “knew” from his friend Watson’s stories, and there are several delightful little tributes to the original stories if you’re a fan–like the fact Holmes takes up beekeeping in his retirement or, my personal favorite, a copy of A Study in Scarlet that briefly appears on screen with the author named as John Watson, not Arthur Conan Doyle, on the cover.
Juggling what is essentially 3 different story lines could have been disastrous, but I thought the filmmakers were able to provide all 3 plots the attention they needed in a way that was not confusing. I also enjoyed the pacing of this movie. It’s not action-packed, per se, but it still moves along quickly because it’s never boring. In fact, I was a bit surprised when it was over because it didn’t feel like I had been watching a movie for nearly 2 hours.
Beyond the story, the acting, and the thematic resonance, this movie is a lot of fun to watch simply because it is so gorgeous. The cinematography, set design, and costumes are all lovely.
If you’re interested in watching this movie–or maybe reading the original Holmes stories that have proven so perennially popular with readers–follow this link to our online catalog.
Have you watched this movie? Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Who is your favorite onscreen Holmes? Tell us in the comments!