In a summer season where the paucity of good movies has reminded me of an old actor in many old Westerns, namely Slim Pickins, finally, finally, there is a wonderful drama that everyone, young and old, should enjoy— Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen (of Gandalf fame) and the wonderful Laura Linney, here playing Mrs. Munro the housekeeper (see e.g. the HBO specials where she plays John Adams’ wife). Add to this, a luminous and bright child, Roger, who is the son of Holme’s housekeeper (played wonderfully by Milo Parker).
Just when you thought, no more new life could be squeezed out of the over dramatized and over cinematized Sherlock Holmes character, comes this wonderful portrayal of Holmes as an old, and rather forgetful man, whose faculties have rather gone off the boil. He seeks here to solve his final case, by which I mean the one he did not solve which basically led to his retirement.
Now in the Conan Doyle saga, as Wiki reminds us, here are the facts about Holmes’ retirement—–“In “His Last Bow”, Holmes has retired to a small farm on the Sussex Downs. The move is not dated precisely, but can be presumed to predate 1904 (since it is referred to retrospectively in “The Second Stain”, first published that year). He has taken up beekeeping as his primary occupation, producing a Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.”
But in the movie, whose summary from the website I will now offer, you can see that somehow, miraculously Holmes is still alive after WWII!: “1947, an aging Sherlock Holmes returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the circumstances of the unsolved case that forced him into retirement, and searches for answers to the mysteries of life and love – before it’s too late.”
Lest you think the film makers have totally taken leave of their senses and also made a mistake about where Sussex, South Downs is, there are in fact some White Cliffs in Sussex in the South Downs region, for instance at Beachy Head, so if you see them in the movie, don’t suppose they had to be filming in Dover!
In other words, apart from the inexplicable date of this story, (Doyle died in 1930, and had killed off Holmes well before then),the story does a wonderful job of presenting us with an interesting tale in keeping with the Holmes’ sagas by Conan Doyle, much more in keeping than say the recent Robert Downey Jr. films, and many other earlier attempts to capture the nature of the man on film. McKellen has put Cumberbatch and Miller on notice. They must raise their game, and we will see if they manage it since Elementary has been renewed for another season, and we are promised a Christmas offering from the team of Cumberbatch and Freeman (it should be interesting since Cumberbatch now is selling out shows in London playing Hamlet).
The essence of this story is not just about the solving of a mystery, though that is key, but about Holmes actually developing a relationship with a young boy, and teaching him about his beloved bees, and how different they are from mean ole wasps. I have to say, the dialogue, the beautiful setting, the cinematography and the story line itself (which includes a subsidiary tale about Holmes going to Japan looking for a herbal remedy for memory loss) makes this movie just a delight. It is BBC film making at its finest. My one regret is that the film is a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes. I would have stayed for much more of this story.
It is the measure of a great actor or actress that they can inhabit different roles very well, without becoming typecast or a caricature of themselves. McKellen was splendid as Gandalf, but it has not so defined him that he could not also do a splendid job as Holmes. Linney was nominated for a variety of awards for playing Abigail Adams, but here she is again, in a very different role, and no one would suggest that she does not play this part equally well.
Thank goodness for a real drama in the midst of all the disappointing comic dramas and so-called blockbusters which so often lack: 1) real acting; 2) a decent plot; 3) memorable dialogue, and I could go on. Mr. Holmes doesn’t rely on CG fakery. The story, the filming, the acting is so much more vibrantly alive for eschewing such things. In short, put other things on hold…. and go consult with this Mr. Holmes. I promise it will be worth it.