Some New Cases For Mr. Holmes
A master detective once reached a crossroads in his work, and made a decision to leave the field for good. As he nears the end of his life, however, he wants some closure on some issues that still weigh on his mind nearly three decades after his last case. Mr. Holmes takes a look at the detective, now in his nineties as he tries to close the books on these matters. In 1947 England, Holmes (Ian McKellen) lives on a small estate and primaily tends to his honeybees. He has a housekeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), a widow with a curious 12-year-old son, Roger (Milo Parker). Part of Roger's curiosity gets him in trouble with Holmes and his mother as the boy reads a manuscript Holmes would like to complete regarding his final case. The boy, though, still has questions the old detective sees as a genuine interest in his activities.
Besides his bees, Holmes does write, but not mysteries. He left the writing of those to his late partner, Dr. John Watson (Colin Starkey). Holmes has written about the possible medicinal uses of royal jelly and prickly ash, especially for those with aging bodies and minds. He had recently traveled to Japan to meet with a Matsuka Umizake (Hiroyuki Sanada) about getting some prickly ash. Mr. Umizake also wanted to know what Holmes knew about his father, who knew Sherlock, but had suddenly disappeared from his family. He had some idea, but the effects of his late brother, Mycroft (John Sessions), might have more answers. The writing that Roger saw was an account of Holmes's final case from his own point of view. He wanted to share the real story of Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan), a troubled young wife whose actions suggest she might be arranging to kill her husband, Thomas (Patrick Kennedy), who had hired Holmes to tail her. As he writes his book, Mrs. Munro gets a job offer for herself and Roger. Before she can decide, Roger has an accident near the apiary, which his mother blames on Sherlock and the boy's allergy to honeybees.
Mr. Holmes, which is based on a work by Mitch Cullum, is a moving and poignant work about a man who'd like to set some things straight while he's still able. The local physician, Dr. Barrie (Roger Allam), has noticed Sherlock has more frequent memory lapses, and wants Holmes to record these incidents. He's even taken to writing down the names of people he sees on his shirt sleeve. Still, he maintains enough focus that he can work at his apiary and try and answer lingering questions. The screenplay adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher works like a Holmes mystery, only more personal. Director Bill Condon has worked with both lead actors before (McKellen on Gods And Monsters, Linney on Kinsey), ans shows two people who might get on each other's nerves, but truly care about each other's well being - as well as Roger's. My problems with Mr. Holmes are twofold. One is that showing post-war Hiroshima wasn't really necessary. There's plenty to show that the famed detective had already lived a long life without getting heavy about it. Also, Roger's allergy to honeybees should have been apparent in a scene where one stung him.
McKellen shines as an old version of Sherlock, who still faces the good and bad of the world while contemplating his mortality. He understands that Watson embellished for the sake of fans and sales, but the Kelmot case showed that not every deduction was a perfect one, and its conclusion made him leave sleuthing. I especially like how he picks apart the Holmes persona of print and screen, and even endures one of the cinematic adaptations of his cases. Linney is just as strong as the plain-spoken Mrs. Munro, who fusses over the household, yet allows for indulgences, such as Sherlock putting royal jelly and prickly ash on his food. Parker is very enjoyable as well as Roger, a boy trying to find out more about the world. His curiosity also shows a maturity which allows Sherlock to trust the boy with his things. I also enjoyed Sanada and Morahan in their small roles.
Mr. Holmes tells three stories, and tells them well. The issues he faces are not ones for money, but ones of personal necessity. He feels the need to set the record straight on a couple of issues, both for those who still live with these issues, but to respect the memories of those who have passed. He also feels the need to show gratitude to those who remain. Sherlock Holmes earned a reputation as a great detective, but he wants to leave a legacy that doesn't exclusively include the image people have of him. Mr. Holmes shows a man who comes to share a part of him that Watson's books wouldn't be interested in covering.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Mr. Holmes 3.5 stars. A famed detective gets personal.