Film Review: Mr Holmes is a masterclass

Mr Holmes

British literature’s most famous super sleuth returns in the form of a retired, close-to-the-grave old man wrestling with his increasingly unreliable memory. Ian McKellen plays the iconic role of Detective Sherlock Holmes, trying to piece together a still-unsolved case which led to his retirement.

The year is 1947, and Holmes now lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse, cared for by his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger. The detective is a grumpy, demanding old codger – at odds with the mis-representation of him in Watson’s best-selling novels – frustratedly trying to piece together a mystery from years ago, the details of which his ageing brain is refusing to recall. While trying to find closure, he forms a friendship with young Roger, but can he finally get to the bottom of the case which forced him to quit all those years ago?

Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind and directed by Bill Condon, the film takes a different tone from your usual Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes isn’t a pipe-smoking, deerstalker-wearing, cool-as-a cucumber genius, but rather an creaky old pensioner whose only pleasure is tending for his hive of bees. The narrative jumps between the present day and decades previous, where the protagonist is sharper of mind. It is an acting masterclass from McKellen. The difference in body-language between the two ages of Holmes is incredible. The way he carries himself as a 90-something is so believable. He is frail to the point of snapping, his eyes portray the sheer frustration at his failing memory yet occasionally shine and glimmer, throwing back to the Holmes of old. At the other end of the scale, Milo Parker is a delight as little Roger, a child with confidence beyond his years and an inquisitive nature which fans a fire in the elderly man.

The English coastline and countryside look absolutely stunning and the narrative builds to a clever and satisfactory ending. With faultless performances across the board, Mr Holmes is thoughtful and engaging and a tour de force from the always excellent Mr McKellen.

Mr Holmes is in Australian cinemas July 23, 2015 and is already out in the UK.

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend.