“Mr Holmes (2015)” Review

Not elementary.

Why did I watch it?

I can’t resist anything Holmes. Plus, this seems a bit different from the Downey Jr/Cumberbatch reinterpretations.

Did it meet expectations?

This certainly isn’t a Conan Doyle mystery. It’s more an examination of the impact of dementia upon an extraordinary capable and independent man who relies on memory and mental faculty. Sherlock Holmes is a handy subject.

This isn’t an update to Holmes, in the House/Sherlock/Elementary style, but although it is a period piece it does strip back the traditional trappings of the deerstalker, 221B, even John Watson (who appears only for a few seconds). Taking some things as inventions of Watson’s narratives is very much following the original text, and many other tangential explorations of the character. McKellen’s Holmes inhabits the same world we do – the world of the Holmes myth, tourists in Baker St, the Stand magazine… but oddly it invents its own Holmes cinema adaptations rather than referencing the real ones.

The mystery, if that’s the right word, that is for this narrative to solve is why did Holmes retire to Sussex to keep bees, giving up the detection business? The film also invents Cuckmere Haven station (actually Horsted Keynes) and there’s some lovely Sussex filming.

McKellen’s portrait of Holmes, cutting between the older retiree and the detective in London, is superb – balancing the impatience and arrogance with a gently growing friendship with his housekeeper’s young son. Each of the characters is well drawn and the performances are excellent.

Satisfying Sunday evening viewing.

You should watch it if…

  • You enjoy speculating about an under-explored period of Holmes’ life
  • You are open to quite a different, perhaps more human, interpretation of the character

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You require a deerstalker and meerschaum (“I prefer a cigar”)
  • You are fond of wasps

Up next: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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