I finally got around to watching Mr Holmes, a film based on Mitch Cullin’s wonderful book, A Slight Trick of the Mind. It stars Ian McKellen as an elderly Sherlock Holmes fighting the onset of dementia and struggling to remember the details of his very last case, the one which pushed him into retirement. Now living on the Sussex Downs with just his beloved bees, a housekeeper and her young son for company, Holmes is far from the vital man-of-action we are used to seeing on screen.
I’ve come to the party a bit late with this one, which is a shame because I loved the film so much. It was gentle, refreshing and so much better than I thought it would be. When it came out I think I was suffering from a Holmes-overload, the juggernaut which is BBC Sherlock, the Guy Richie films, Elementary – I couldn’t see this new film offering anything more than just another leap on the bandwagon. But that was unfair and wrong. I should have given it a chance.
The film is a touchingly authentic portrayal of an aging Holmes, exactly as I would imagine him to be. The crime element was weak, in my opinion, but this didn’t really matter because the emphasis was elsewhere. It was a story about friendship, the debilitating and frustrating effects of old age, of loneliness, loss and regret. It was billed in one of the TV mags as a crime-drama, but this missed the point. It wasn’t a crime drama at all but instead a beautifully imagined human-interest drama. It was a refreshing antidote to the slick action-filled offerings we’ve had of late. It was quiet, sensitive and said so much more by saying so much less. There was a lightness of touch, a subtly, and an authenticity because of its clever use of canonical references. There was even a cameo from Nicholas Rowe who played Holmes in Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. A reminder perhaps that we’ve now had a version of every stage of his life from young through to old. The setting was beautiful and McKellen was superb – not just as Holmes but as a dementia suffer too. I might be a late-comer, but I’m completely won over. Mr Holmes was well worth the wait.