Monday, February 1, 2016

Mr Holmes - a wonderful journey

I am a little surprised this film has received so little attention in the world of Sherlockiana. I found it a wonderful surprise.

Based on the book 'A Slight Trick of the Mind' by Mictch Cullin, the film explores the mentally diminished Holmes as he nears the end of his life, trying to remember his last case that sent him into retirement.

As Sherlockians most of us have images of Holmes later in life.
Most also would not like to think of him with his mind failing, retired and for the most part alone in Sussex.
Better that he go out with a bang on one last case, with the only reason it wasn't recorded was because Watson had preceded him on that final journey.

This film finds Holmes at 93 seeking solutions to slow down his dementia. He is often times a crusty old curmudgeon, most times rude and impatient with his long suffering housekeeper. He is however not without humor and the subtlety of that humor provides some of the best moments of the film.

The film opens with a wonderful train scene as Holmes returns from a war torn Japan where he was seeking another remedy for his affliction.

As his dementia advances Holmes is trying to document that last case before he can no longer remember it's conclusions at all. A task he is finding very difficult.

While in Japan he is also reminded of another encounter he had had with his hosts father many years before.

The plots of either of the two cases has to take the backseat to the wonderful portrayal of the elderly Holmes by Ian McKellen. Mckellen does an incredible job of showing a man who is at one time fearful of his condition yet resigned to its outcome. His character goes back a forth between a complete Holmes and one who gets lost due to his dementia and the fear that goes along with it.
He is hansome as the aged detective in the flash back scenes at times reminding one of Brett in his precious manner and subtle humor. His time as flashback Holmes is very elegant.

The times when McKellen's Holmes was commenting on Watson's writings was a treat and not an insult like a modern version of Holmes does now. There was a respect to what Watson had down and much of what we now know as iconic to Holmes is treated with humor. I loved the line, ". . . penny dreadfuls with elevated prose.” And,  “an embellishment of the illustrator”.

His time as aged Holmes with dementia shows glimpses of a character we could recognize as Holmes fading in to a man who is lost in his own body.
We see glimpses of his observation skills, while realizing at times he can not remember the names of the people around him.

The film ends with Holmes if not finding redemption, then perhaps at least finding solace.

Ian McKellen's Holmes should go down as one of he best Holmes portrayals on film.

Milo Parker as the young Roger, son of Holmes' housekeeper, totally nails his part as the inquisitive young man who eventually becomes the elder Holmes' side kick and companion in bees. His performance is spot on without any of the over acting we often see in kids performances. His part is not big, but it does leave a big impression.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Tamiki Umezaki again gives a very subtle yet substantial performance.
I first liked his work in Last Samurai and once again he does not disappoint. I ended up feeling very sorry for his character because neither resolution to his 'case' was a pleasant one.

The cinematography is fantastic, as is the costumes and sets.

The film however is not without flaws.

Laura Linney as Mrs. Munro is under used and we don't get to explore her character enough.
However, some of her characters interactions with Holmes were very telling about their relationship and really helped with the explanation of Holmes' character and her desire to leave his service.

The performance by Nicholas Rowe as 'Matinee Holmes' is overly melodramatic for a Holmes film filmed at roughly the same time as Rathbones reign as Holmes. Or perhaps I should say that the film in which Rowe played the Matinee Holmes of overly melodramatic . I would have to say that probably had more to do with the direction of the film than in Rowe's performance skills.

It was however fun to watch McKellen's Holmes observation of the film.

I had read a few IMDB reviews of the film where the reviewer complained hope how slow the film seemed. Matter of fact that was usually the only complaint. If you compared it to a Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes then yes, it would appear very slow.
But if you considered the subject matter that was being dealt with, it was far from slow.

Like I said earlier, this should rank among one of the better Sherlock Holmes films that does not deal with the Canon.

Even on my second viewing I am enjoying it as much as I did the first time. Rarely does a film compliment a book so well.

For these reasons and many more I can fairly give it'


  1. I think there is a lot in the movie for a Sherlockian to like. For me personally, the script had too many "misses" on the character of Holmes and how the movie treated the audience--the parallel of McKellen's Holmes lying to Mr. Umezaki about his father to give Umezaki a happy ending to to his personal story (and the implication of that is how Watson treated his readers) and the movie giving the audience a feel-good ending that stuck me as rather phony.

    1. Although I do not agree with McKellen's Holmes selling a happy ending to Mr. Umezaki, espesially since his mother had already died, I do understand his need as an elderly man to try to finish his life with some redemtion. You do have to wonder why Watson wrote that story in the first place since he was not precent for any of it. I could hardly be to keep Holmes from remembering it if he ever read the story.
      The implication was to save face for Holmes which would not be needed if Watson had not written it in the first place.
      And we can not be sure that as the elderly Holmes wrote it was actually the way it ended. Was that also a slight trick of the mind.