Skip to main content

I look like I've been attacked by the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mr. Holmes
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Ian McKellen’s prominent proboscis needs no adornment – after all, no one spurned Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock over his decidedly non-Roman nasal fixture – but one can at least appreciate that his Mr. Holmes prosthetic honk is a seamless, if superfluous, special effect. Much like the mystery at the heart of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. The key to this nonagenarian incarnation of Holmes is his much caricatured emotional dimension (or rather lack thereof, as divested of all merit in Steven Moffat’s fatuously overplayed Sherlock version) and, as antithetical to the character as it sounds, the resulting film is a warm-hearted investigation of the processes of loss and regret.


As such, the actual trappings and regalia of Sherlock Holmes aren’t exactly irrelevant, but this would be as affecting a tale without such encumbrances. Numerous doodlings regarding the differences between the literary Sherlock and the real article are, semi-pertinently, included (I appreciated the “for aficionados” presence of Nicholas Rowe, Young Sherlock Holmes, as a big screen Sherlock, a nice little homage to a film that explored the polar end of the great detective’s life), as this Holmes is suffering the early stages of dementia and thus beginning to losing his certainty over which were facts and which mere literary inventions of his past.


Hatcher/Cullin (the latter also wrote Tideland, made into a film by Terry Gilliam) pick up on Holmes’ Sussex retirement as presented in The Last Bow and The Lion’s Mane (the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of which inserted Watson into the proceedings), although they don’t quite mesh with the idea here that Holmes retired after World War I; Holmes announces that if, he had brought the Kelmot case to a successful conclusion, he wouldn’t have left Baker Street (noting that he and Watson parted on frosty terms).


Some of the elements feel a little clumsy, signposting the passing eras (Holmes visiting Hiroshima). Although, in fairness, tying this into a quest for a retreat of his encroaching mental decline is reasonably sketched (the prized prickly ash). There isn’t really a puzzle to solve as such, however, and this isn’t ultimately quite as satisfying as the best Holmes fan fictions that take in his personal life (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Seven Per Cent Solution).


So too, Holmes deductive faculties lack any real dazzle; I feared the worst when precocious child Roger (Milo Parker, a ringer for a young Thomas Brodie-Sangster), son of housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney), intrudes on the aging sleuth’s routines. It turns out to be a surprisingly winning cross-generational friendship, though, McKellen modulating the gruff-kind-dotty characterisation expertly, and truly convincingly inhabiting a body entering decrepitude (and, thirty years earlier, one in relative vigour).


The signs of Holmes’ rudeness are in evidence even as he discovers the emotional ruin at his core (“Exceptional children are often the product of unremarkable people” he informs Roger’s mother), and there’s a rather stately, elegant race against time aspect to his desire to get to the heart of, and document, his last case before his faculties burn out completely (this imminent ruin appears to be dropped once the case is brought to a satisfactory conclusion). But the minor present mystery (what is killing the bees?), and its conflagration and pay-off, work much more effectively than the tortured trip down memory lane, simply because there isn’t enough substance apportioned to the lot of Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan) and her burdened existence.


We haven’t become invested in her case, merely informed of the full circumstances on a park bench, and – despite some notable distractions such the armonica as a means of contacting the spirit world, and Frances de la Tour’s cameo as Madame Schirmer, with an accent almost as ludicrous as the one she employed in the recent Survivor – so Holmes momentary culpability in her demise lacks resonance. The occasional line invokes Conan Doyle’s own later fascinations (“He doesn’t understand. The dead are no so very far away. They’re just, on the other side of the wall”), but Mr. Holmes is really most effective dealing with the emotional stakes of the here and now.


And on that level, Bill Condon’s film is a resounding success. This is his first reteaming with McKellen since his previously most acclaimed picture, Gods and Monsters, and they share a reflective tone in their aging, isolated protagonists. Condon has a patchy relationship with material, elevating The Twilight Saga (well, relatively) but coming unstuck with The Fifth Estate. He’s clearly not averse to big screen spectacle (His next is Beauty and the Beast for Disney), but this type of smaller, more invested affair feels like a better fit. Mostly, though, it’s just a great showcase for McKellen, who draws on a touch of Gandalf-ian wisdom in his compelling portrait of sorrow and decline.


There’s lovely summery scenery from cinematographer Tobias A Schliessler (this does seem like a beatific spot to retire, an apt conjuring of Conan Doyle fate for Holmes) and a gentle yet insistent score from Carter Burwell setting the picture off nicely. Mr. Holmes isn’t by any means remarkable, but provides an emotionally satisfying rumination on the heart of a man who professed to be all mind.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.