In Mr. Holmes (trailer), it’s post-war England, and the elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen), lives on a remote property on the Sussex coast. He tends his bees and shuns detecting, ever since the tragic conclusion of his last case some 35 years earlier. But he’s bothered by John Watson’s account of the case and a movie about it, both of which got the wrong end of the stick.
Between stretches of mentoring his housekeeper’s young son Roger in the details of managing an apiary, avoiding his housekeeper (played to a “T” by Laura Linney), who is apprehensive his declining physical state and advancing dementia will soon be too much for her to handle, trying unproven botanical memory aids, and enjoying terrific view of Seven Sisters white cliffs, Holmes has taken pen in hand to write his own record of that final case. Its details are elusive and come back to him only in fits and starts.
The movie is based on a 2005 literary mystery by Mitch Cullin, A Slight Trick of the Mind, which “is not a detective story; it’s a work of literary fiction, and as such it’s much more interested in the mysteries Holmes can never solve,” said Salon reviewer Laura Miller.
Director Bill Condon obtained fine performances by McKellen and Linney, as well as the strong supporting cast, including Roger Allam (who plays Holmes’s doctor), Milo Parker (Roger), Hattie Moraham (as the principal in his last case), and Hiroyuki Sanada (who provides Holmes some of his botanicals, but issues his own challenge to the aging detective). Late in life, that challenge teaches Holmes an important lesson.
For my taste there was too much aging and not enough mystery. Perhaps Monsters and Critics’ Ron Wilkinson captured the problem when he wrote, “A charming but fatally slow exposition.” Too, more should have been done cosmetically to differentiate the 93-year-old Holmes from the flashbacks of him at age 58.
Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating: 87%; audiences, 78%.