Movie Review: Mr Holmes

I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan, having read the stories and seen most of the film and television adaptations. And I am an admirer of the legendary actor, Ian McKellen, known for his portrayal of Gandalf in the Middle Earth movies. When I saw Ian’s recent release, Mr Holmes, available on Amazon Video, I declared this evening a movie night. 

Mr Holmes stars Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan and Patrick Kennedy. This drama/mystery was directed by Bill Condon and carries a PG rating for mature themes and incidental smoking. The film has a run time of 1 hour and 44 minutes. 

Set in 1947, London’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) has long been in retirement. After his last case, he removed himself from the public’s attention and pleas for help, settling in a remote village in Sussex. He resides there with his housekeeper, Mrs Munro (Linney) and her young son, Roger (Parker). His only other companions are his cherished bees. 

Holmes returns from a long and exhausting journey to Japan, where he spent time with a Mr Umezaki (Sanada). Holmes sought Japan’s elusive Prickly Ash to bring home, hopeful that the plant has curative properties. Mr Umezaki  ultimately sought answers to lifelong questions about his father’s disappearance in England. Mr Holmes, at least, was succesful in his quest. 

At home, Holmes is weary. At the age of 93, he desires peace and the comforts of his bees and his studies. But his last case haunts and perplexes him. He becomes obsessed with the case again and takes to writing down the facts, as he remembers them. Holmes finds that the boy, Roger, is bright and interested in learning about beekeeping. And he discovers that having conversations with Roger helps him remember details from the case that so consumes him. 

In well done flashbacks, the old case is recounted, memory by memory. Holmes was hired by Thomas Kelmot (Kennedy) to discover what is going on with his wife, Ann (Morahan), who grief stricken over the loss of two infants, appears to be going mad. Umezaki’s story is interwoven with the past and the present, showing the connectedness and flow of Holmes’ life. 

As Holmes relies on facts and logic to piece together his last mystery, an enemy more deadly than Moriarty stalks him. 

This was a beautifully done film that I enjoyed immensely. Ian McKellen was superb as the 93 year old Holmes in his twilight years, and as the 62 year old version of himself, shown in the backstory, working through his last case. Laura Linney and Milo Parker gave warm and soulful performances as well. 

I could not separate out Gandalf from Holmes, so I gave in and let this be the wise wizard from Middle Earth pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. Ian’s voice, his words, even his non-verbal vocalizations all sounded like Gandalf. And the older Holmes poignantly reminded me of Greg’s dad, Bob, who passed away last year at age 94. This Holmes, with his grace, wit and logic, was an interesting mix to me of Gandalf, Sherlock and Bob Moore. I did not mind that combination at all. 

In fact, I was deeply moved by this movie. I smiled, I laughed, I teared up. Who was Sherlock Holmes, really? Who was the man behind the stories that John Watson wrote for a curious audience? And are facts and logic enough to sustain a man, especially as he faces his mortality? 

Good questions for any journeyer to ask. I loved this movie. At the end I smiled through tears and clapped. I found myself missing Gandalf, missing Bob Moore…and earnestly hoping that Ian McKellen graces us with his presence for a long time yet.  

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