This article was originally published to The Edge on 23rd June 2015
A great deal of the recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations have embraced the more theatrical and compelling aspects of the character’s deductive skills, whilst doing away with a lot of the campiness and iconography. When Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock wears the deerstalker it is in jest, and good luck trying to get Robert Downey jr into one. Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes is very similar in that regard, but as films (or TV for that matter) go, this is a markedly different take on the detective.
In Bill Condon’s film, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired to the South of England, where he has been for over a quarter of a century. He takes no part in detective business anymore, instead keeping bees, and bemoaning wasps. He also strikes up a friendship with the son of his housekeeper, the intelligent and inquisitive Roger (Milo Parker). Yet while he remains as smart as ever, his memory is failing him as his body is, and he is haunted by his final case – the end of which he does not remember.
Although McKellen’s Holmes is undeniably still an intelligent man, the showboating of his deduction is reserved the most part for flashbacks to his final case. These are told as Holmes himself tells the story to young Roger, played excellently by Parker. McKellen’s Holmes meanwhile is far from cantankerous, although he still possesses a disregard for tactful language at times. He’s an old man like many others, suffering from the perils of ageing and grappling with his past and specifically, how that past has been changed by Watson’s fictions. It is incredibly frustrating for a man driven by logic.
Yet while this story lacks the urgency of more conventional Holmes mysteries, (and has considerably more picturesque cinematography), it is a story full of heartfelt meaning. This can be felt most clearly in the excellently played scenes between McKellen’s and Parker, when this relationship between past and present, young and old, is at its most literal. This means the film will undeniably appear like more of a TV movie, and perhaps it would have worked best and reached more people as such. However, that would make it the best TV version of Holmes in three years, not merely the best film adaptation in decades.
Mr. Holmes (2015), directed by Bill Condon, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One, certificate PG.