Mr. Holmes is a passionately crafted character-study of the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes, filled with all the adventure and intrigue of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original tales, but given an introspective look at the character. The film is both a story of regret and mystery, but also questions the ideals of the character that has become imprinted into popular culture.
Set in 1947, the film follows the story of a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, who now lives with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). When Roger and Holmes form a bond over the tending of the cottage’s bees, the retired detective is inspired to recall the case he couldn’t solve, and begins to discover the mistakes that have followed his entire career.
Director Bill Condon creates a beautifully shot film full of vibrant cinematography that both captures the beauty of the environment and the turmoil of the film’s titular character. Though the film is directed with suspense and action, but doesn’t draw too heavily upon events on a plot-driven level, but instead focuses on the psychology of Sherlock Holmes. Condon plays upon the character’s legacy, specifically using his appearances in popular culture to it’s advantage, and asks questions regarding the character’s influence and longevity.
Though the film is a mystery, it heavily relies upon the ideals of the character and his moral code. The questions of truth and its effects are debated heavily, and the film does an excellent job at exploring Holmes’s influence upon others, and his reasons for pursuing his profession. Seeing the character grow old not only allows a more open study of his life, but also humanizes the character that hasn’t been seen on screen to this degree.
To handle such a extensively crafted character, Ian McKellen gives one of the best performances oh his career as the classic detective. McKellen gives an understated and whimsical performance, and though he pays homage to the classical elements of the character, yet makes the role his own through his nature. In both the present time and flashbacks, the character is presented as an aging and regretful character, drawing from the wealth of source material.
Additionally, the relationship between McKellen and the young Milo Parker adds a new level to the character depth. Their relationship combines humor and emotion, and both gives Holmes a reason for completing his cases. In such an introspective film that primarily focuses on Holmes, this character interaction makes the film both more entertaining and more human.
The only real issue facing Mr. Holmes is it’s pacing, which occasionally drags in its second half. During the latter part of the film, the flashbacks are cut back, and the story focuses more on Holmes’s personal issues. Though these scenes are powerful, they depart from the mystery aspect of the film, and feel out of place in the film’s greater complex.
Poignant and thrilling, Mr. Holmes is an entertaining portrayal of the famous character in a method that’s both reflective and hopeful. Despite it’s issues, it’s an expertly crafted film accompanied by one of the year’s best lead performances. Grade: -A