I was intrigued by the preview and I was in the mood for a character film. Normally, my thriftiness would kick in and I’d wait until I could find this film at a cinema at a discount, but I decided not to wait, so I visited the local independent theatre that is known for showing “art films.” That term generally means hard-to-find films that do not stay around very long. Thankfully, there are a few theaters that provide a good offering of these quiet, under the radar films. The initial reviews for this film ranged were average to very good, but I do not rely much on what other reviewers write.
Let me state this upfront, I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes literary fan. I own a collection of the stories but have not cracked the books in many years. I’m less a fan of the recent Robert Downey, Jr. films, but the television series, Elementary can be an engaging variation on the Holmes character. I am a fan of Sir Ian McKellen and the idea of this film found its way into the part of my brain that said: go see it.
I won’t spoil the story for anyone considering seeing this film although I will talk about the premise and a few observations about the characters. Imagine that Sherlock Holmes was a real person who was reluctantly immortalized by the writings of Dr. John Watson, and is now in his final years of retirement. His memory is fading, he seems befuddled at times, his mobility limited and he is haunted by his final case. How’s that for an exciting lead character?
Holmes struggles to revisit that final case, drawing mightily on his failing memory. Even at a diminished state, his powers of reasoning and observation are still phenomenal to watch at work. The film focuses on this case but also his relationship with Roger, the son of his housekeeper. Through this relationship we see this man of reason also become a man of feeling, and of being able to more fully understand life as more than a collection of facts.
Mr. McKellen gives a fine performance, but when has he not turned in a richly textured performance? Seeing him struggle to recall even the names of people he is spending time with, and registering looks of a great mind stuck in neutral, is both amazing and sad. The film has a rich historic look, not grand, but attentive to detail. Operating on a modest budget, the film focuses on the characters, not the lovely English countryside. The supporting characters are very good, especially Laura Linney as the housekeeper, and Milo Parker is her son, Roger, who forms a friendship with Holmes.
The film is based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind written by Mitch Cullin, and jumps in time between the present (1947) and 1912 when he undertook his last case. Not a masterpiece by any means, Mr. Holmes is slow moving and you may be guessing at how the various story threads fit together. The film does have a great deal of charm and the performances are very enjoyable, especially when seeing Holmes and Roger together. If you can’t find it in the theaters, it is a must-see on DVD or streaming.