Director: Bill Condon (2015)
The game is afoot for the last time in this elegiac postscript to the magisterial career of retired detective Sherlock Holmes.
As the Baker Street sleuth, Ian McKellen delivers a beautifully honest performance. It’s full of humour and sadness without ever lurching into sentiment or self-pity.
We see Holmes at two points in his life: first as a semi-invalid retiree who is all too aware of his fast diminishing mental faculties. Secondly as the arrogant Victorian investigator at the height of his fame and intellectual power.
Beginning in 1947, the 93 year old former detective spends his time beekeeping on the Sussex coast
He has returned from a trip to Japan where he was the guest of Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) on a mission to secure a herb called Prickly Ash.
Holmes hopes to use it as a remedy to halt the decline of his once brilliant mind, an idea looked upon with scorn by housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney).
Together with her 10 year old son Roger (Milo Parker) the three form a surrogate family whose combustible chemistry threatens the uneasy equilibrium of their existence.
We expect and receive great performances from the McKellen and Linney but young Parker is also at times exceptional.
In order to understand his present a frustrated Holmes is trying to remember the details of his last case.
He knows it’s unsatisfactory conclusion lead to his retirement but he can’t fathom why.
Several mysteries run in parallel as through flashback we see the Case of the Grey Glove which occurred 30 years earlier.
Holmes is commissioned by Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) to investigate the behaviour of his grief-stricken wife Ann (Hattie Morahan).
With a story involving vials of poison, exotic musical instruments and forged cheques, Holmes is lead to the mysterious music teacher Madame Schirmer, played by a show-stopping Frances de la Tour.
Discussions of the afterlife are filtered through his failing memory, adding to a layering of fictions.
There are frequent references to the gap between the image of Holmes and his reality. He is not the infallible scientist of public and private perception.
He struggles to engage his emotions or accept leaning on his lifelong crutch of logic will not protect him from regret, loneliness, or guilt.
We see Holmes reading Dr Watson’s novelisations of their adventures and in the cinema watching his fictionalised life portrayed by actors. (Nicholas Rowe is credited as ‘Matinee Sherlock’.)
Presenting versions of Holmes draws the sting of familiarity from previous incarnations and makes McKellen’s Holmes all the more real, boosting the emotional power of the gripping final scenes.
Mr Holmes is adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 book ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind‘ with a screenplay by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher.
The dignified score by Carter Burwell strikes a sombre tone from the off is combined with the graceful cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler.
They create a richly sympathetic and melancholy tone similar to the tone of the excellent The Madness of King George (1994).
He’s also been portrayed on radio, on stage and of course extremely successfully in the slick TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
This intelligent and moving version is produced with admirable care and is always true to the spirit of Conan Doyle‘s brilliant novels.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce this will be an award-winning movie.