In 1947, the world famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired to a remote Sussex farmhouse, living in relative anonymity with only his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker) for company. Cantankerous, demanding and frustrated with the mis-representation of him in Watson's (Colin Starkey) best-selling novels, he diverts his attention to an unsolved case. As the mystery deepens, Sherlock tries desperately to recall the events of 30 years ago that ultimately led to his retirement.
Review by Louise Keller:
Every detail matters in this meticulous portrait of the ageing Sherlock Holmes as he struggles to tidy up unwieldy loose ends. Based on Mitch Cullin's novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, the film is an intriguing glimpse into the mind of Conan Arthur Doyle's beloved detective, whose reliance on facts and logic ironically proves not always to be infallible. Bill Condon, who directed Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters in 1999 (and won the Oscar for best screenplay), has created a film that plays as richly as one of Sherlock Holmes' cases. It's about Holmes' relationships: with himself, Mr Watson, a young boy who loves bees, his housekeeper and the woman at the centre of his last case and the reason for his retirement. As Holmes, Ian McKellen is perfectly cast, beautifully depicting not only the intellectual being, but revealing the vulnerable man behind the facade.
The scene is set in the opening frames, as a train makes its way through the picturesque East Sussex countryside, white smoke billowing from its engine. It's a dour-faced Sherlock Holmes who arrives at his farmhouse, frustrated by the death of a few of his beloved bees from his apiary. There is no love lost between Holmes and his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) but he shares a real bond with her young son Roger (Milo Parker), who is interested in everything about the older man: his bees, his writings, his cases and his analytical observations and attention to detail. Linney is almost unrecognizable as the frumpy housekeeper whose focus is on the wellbeing of her son, while Parker is delightful as the boy eager to learn from his role model.
Battling ailing health and an increasingly poor sense of recall, Holmes' focus is on trying to remember the circumstances of the final case involving Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan), the wife of a client. 'I must have done something wrong,' he muses. There are other subplots meanwhile, including Holmes' recent trip to Japan to bring back a remedy for his failing memory, Holmes' frustration about Mr Watson's literary depictions of him, Mrs Munro's determination to relocate and Roger's keen interest in caring for Homes' apiary.
The past and the present intertwine seamlessly, while Carter Burwell's rhythmic score acts as a metronome. The Sussex setting is gorgeous as are the shots of White Cliffs of Dover. While the film works beautifully on an intellectual level, there is also an undercurrent of emotions that plays out to great effect. When McKellen breaks down onscreen, it is impossible not to be affected.
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MR HOLMES (M)
CAST: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Milo Parker, Colin Starkey
PRODUCER: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Emile Sherman
DIRECTOR: Bill Condon
SCRIPT: Mitch Cullin (based on his novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, with characters by Arthur Conan Doyle)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tobias A. Schliessler
EDITOR: Not credited
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Martin Childs
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 23, 2015