“Because when you’re a detective, and a man comes to see you, it’s usually about his wife.”
In the last few years, we’ve had two blockbuster Sherlock Holmes / Robert Downey Jr movies, the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and the US series with Johnny Lee Miller as the legendary detective. Add to that the century or so of adaptations, reimaginings and rip offs, and we should all well and truly be suffering from severe Sherlock Holmes fatigue. But I guess it’s a sign of what a compelling , timeless character he is, that when I heard about Mr Holmes, I knew I’d be seeing it sooner rather than later.
It’s the mid 20th century, and a 90 odd year old Holmes (Ian McKellen) has been retired for a couple of decades. With the early signs dementia, he returns to his English countryside farmhouse from Japan, where he’s been trying local remedies to help his failing mind. Realising that his memories are getting less and less reliable, Holmes decides it’s time to finally write his own version of events, to counter the fictionalised versions written by his friend John Watson years earlier. Specifically, he wants to write about his last case, which he tackled 20 years ago.
Also living in his farmhouse are housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney), and her son, Roger (Milo Parker). Initially, the grumpy old Holmes sees Roger as a nuisance. But the more time he spends the boy, the more affection he feels. And as he flashes back to the case from 20 years ago, Roger helps him remember the increasingly foggy details.
I guess the reason the world hasn’t suffered from Sherlock Holmes fatigue is because all of the recent versions have found their own twist. The TV adaptations set it in the modern world with Cumberbatch and Miller delivering two very different versions of Holmes’ cold, analytical (and in Miller’s case, borderline autistic) lack of social skills. Guy Ritchie and Downey made it a steam punk, action roller coaster bromance. And here, with Mr Holmes, we get a much more empathetic take on the character.
Watching a severely aged Sherlock Holmes come to terms with the cost of his lifetime of detachment is definitely a version of the character I’ve never seen or read before. And Ian McKellen makes the regret, sadness and attempts at redemption so real and heart wrenching. The 70 year old Holmes pursuing his last case comes with a certain amount of emotion. Watching a 90 year old Holmes finally face those emotions 20 years after the fact is even more dramatic.