Mr Holmes (2015)

holmes2016.36: Mr Holmes (Amazon Prime/VOD)

In many ways, this film isn’t really a Sherlock Holmes film, its more a character piece examining the difficulties of old age and failing memory. For fans of the character though it’s likely a very nice coda to his (fictional) life-story.  Mr Holmes imagines the master detective living to the ripe old age of 93, and living in a world quite unlike that of his earlier adventures. It is 1947, and Holmes is living in an anonymous  coastal countryside retreat with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is preoccupied with his very last case from thirty years before, with his failing memory making it seemingly impossible to piece it together. His fractured recollections are told in flashback, as is a further plotline of more recent memories of a trip to Japan in search of a plant that can be used as a medicinal drug.

This latter sub-plot is troublesome for the film and largely turns out to be of such little benefit to the film that it could well have been dropped entirely. The film would have been all the better for more focus on the 1947  ‘present’ and the subsequent untangling of the mysteries of Holmes final case.Having this secondary series of flashbacks (the two plotlines running through the film as a separate series of flashbacks) might work well in a book but in a film can damage any pace or progress of the seperate arcs.

Ian McKellen does remarkable work playing two Sherlock Holmes-  one a 93 year-old struggling with losing his faculties and the other a 60 year-old still in his detective ‘prime’ on his final case. Its a great performance (augmented by some great make-up) that raises the film to something greater than its parts. If it were just a film about an old man struggling with losing his mind and questions of identity and fading memory it would still be a very good film- the fact that the main character is Sherlock Holmes, with all the literary and cinematic baggage that entails, makes its quite a powerful experience and a fulfilling film.

It isn’t perfect – I have those mentioned issues with that plotline set in Japan- but it’s certainly  a very worthwhile film, and I’m sure rather poignant for fans of the character. Its certainly more complex and thoughtful than I had expected. It left me wondering about perhaps someone making a similar film one day about another famous fictional character, James Bond; a film of an old, physically impaired spy looking back on his career and one particular mission (particularly if his ‘missions’ took place in the 1960s of the original films) might make for a very interesting film too. Maybe there will be an opportunity for something like that someday.