Mr. Holmes Review

Posted: August 12, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

mr-holmes-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Sherlock Holmes has historically been one of the most famous characters in popular fiction. Even those who have never read one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories or seen any of the adaptations can probably describe a few characteristics of the famous sleuth. Today, Holmes’ popularity is as strong as ever with several successful adaptations. The best example of this is almost certainly the highly acclaimed BBC series Sherlock, which has made stars out of its two leads. There’s also the American series Elementary which has also been well-received. And then of course we had the Guy Ritchie directed films starring Robert Downey Jr. just a few years back. Each of these adaptations (particularly the British ones) I’ve been aimed at a young and hip demographic. Such as not the case for the newest take on the world’s most famous detective; Mr. Holmes, which looks at the titular character’s twilight years.

The film opens in 1947, with a retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) living in his secluded country home in Sussex. Holmes as become a legend due to the stories written by his friend and colleague Dr. John Watson, however these stories paint a fairly inaccurate picture of the real Sherlock. This is especially true of Watson’s last story which depicted Holmes’ final case; the one which forced him to retire. Holmes as decided to set the record straight and rewrite the story, but the trouble is his failing memory makes it difficult for Holmes to recall what did actually happen. He is however aided by his housekeeper’s young son Roger (Milo Parker).

The core appeal of the film is watching Holmes rediscover the case and explore his own memories. This is a very rich premise which touches on a number of themes, including ageing, regret, loneliness, and mythification. However while all these themes are present, they aren’t adequately explored with any meaning or complexity. For example there is a sense that Holmes’ regrets the gradual deterioration of his personal relationships, but we never see those relationships or said deterioration so it’s hard to feel anything.  It’s a very surface level explanation of these ideas that could have used a lot more scale. The film would have benefited from greater scale rather than the limited time frames depicted. There are some flashbacks to other parts of Holmes’ life, but they don’t deliver thematic resonance. I also wasn’t very impressed with the central case here, which is very straight-forward and dull. I suppose that was part of the intent, to make it more “realistic”, but it isn’t very interesting.

Mr. Holmes’ biggest problem is the decision to frame the entire film around the titular character’s relationship with the young boy, Roger. It’s a very typical plotline that follows the usual clichés of stories where old characters befriend very young children. The subplot isn’t bad, exactly, but it’s a little boring and easily the least interesting thing the film could have chosen to focus on. I feel like this decision was made to make the film easier, less challenging viewing for wider audiences. Personally, I would have cut out this entire plotline entirely, and focused primarily on the elderly Holmes reconstructing his memories through his writing, while flashbacks inform how Holmes got to this place in his life.

While the film itself was a little bit of a letdown, certain elements did deliver. Ian McKellen was the main reason I was interested in the film and his performance is up to snuff. He creates a fun take on Sherlock Holmes. This isn’t the OCD super genius so often depicted, but a well-intentioned, highly intelligent old man who can sometimes be rude without realizing it. It’s an interesting take on the legendary role and McKellen nails the emotional beats. His conviction is so strong in fact that he makes it feel like we see a greater portion of Holmes’ life and defeats than we actually do.

Bill Condon is a director known for being workman like and unexceptional, and he mostly continues that tradition here. He never raises the bar, but be provides the right elements well. The film is pretty well shot, with strong production and costumes, and a solid Carter Burwell score. It’s a watchable film, but nothing more, and that’s a shame because I do think they could have made something special here had it been handled with a bit more vision. As it stands, Mr. Holmes makes for perfectly passable viewing at home on a Sunday afternoon.


  1. […] Other Opinions Are Available. What did these people have to say about Mr Holmes? The A.V Club Sydney Morning Herald PG Cooper […]

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