Mr. Holmes

| November 3, 2015

I realize we’ve been getting a bit over-saturated with Sherlock Holmes stories over the past few years.  Between Steven Moffat’s (Doctor Who) brilliant BBC series, the Guy Ritchie movies starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), the American CBS series, and now this film, the super sleuth is everywhere.  What gets me interested in a given Holmes story is how it can function differently from any other Holmes adaptation I’ve seen.  The BBC series achieves this by putting Holmes in a modern setting, which the CBS series also does, but I already have a modern Sherlock Holmes show that isn’t as much of a time commitment and is exponentially better written and directed, so I’m good.  The Ritchie movies were supposed to explore Holmes’ more brutal tendencies, but wound up just being boring.

Mr. Holmes is something new.  First of all, it features a much older Sherlock Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen; The Hobbit) than we’ve traditionally seen.  Long after he’s stopped his work as a consulting detective, Holmes has retired to his little country home with his housekeeper Mrs. Munroe (Laura Linney; Love Actually) and her son Roger (Milo Parker).  He devotes his time to beekeeping and writing down the story of his last mystery, which he can’t quite recall but knows that the version his friend John Watson wrote down was incorrect in some way being that Watson did not witness the events firsthand.

The film has a lot of fun supposing what Holmes would be like if he were a real person, immortalized in works of fiction that have made him famous while also creating these interesting misconceptions about him.  Upon meeting one fan, she asks him why he’s not wearing his famous deerstalker hat or smoking his trademark pipe, to which Holmes replies that he’s never worn one of those hats and prefers a good cigar.  The visual components to his character in the books were an embellishment of an illustrator, which is true of the world we live in too.  It’s never established in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories that Holmes wore a deerstalker or smoked a pipe.  When the stories were first published in local magazines, some nameless illustrator created the look of Sherlock Holmes that has become so iconic today.  I found this aspect of the film really interesting and creative.

Unfortunately, the movie is a bit slow and dull.  I love McKellen’s performance as Holmes, and it’s nice to see him played as a rather kindly old man rather than the raging egotistical sociopath a lot of interpretations bring to life.  Those versions of the character are fun too when handled properly, but McKellen’s Holmes is much more realistic as he builds relationships with the people around him and is allowed to be weak and emotional and flawed while his memory and intellect begin to fail him.  I also like the way Holmes is thrown into one last mystery unexpectedly, though solving it doesn’t seem to tax his considerable powers of observation, even in his old age.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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