Mr. Holmes

Directed By: Bill Condon

Starring: Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Milo Parker

In the pantheon of British fictional characters, there are three reigning kings.  Harry Potter certainly has a place in our hearts with the magic he's to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in recent years.  MI-6 secret agent James Bond has had us preferring our martinis shaken not stirred for more than half a century now.  The most iconic British character of them all, however, has brought mystery to Baker Street since the late nineteenth century.  That's right.  I'm talking about our most beloved fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. After nearly 130 years, it's hard to believe that a figment of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's imagination still enamors readers and viewers alike or that writers and directors are still finding new ways to reinvent the sharp-witted detective.  As it stands, we are once again witness to the reinvention of this character with this weekend's exquisite Mr. Holmes from director Bill Condon.

It's 1947.  At the age of 93, it's safe to say that Sherlock Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen) is not at the height of his powers.  It certainly doesn't help that the aging detective has spent the last 35 years of his life out on the countryside away from the world taking care of his bees.  The royal jelly from his hive and the prickly ash he obtained on a recent trip to Japan with Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) have both done their fair share to help conceal this.  However, Father Time catches up with us all sooner or later, and he's found his way to Mr. Holmes.  Feeble and losing his memory, the only "friends" Holmes has in the world are his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her boy Roger (Milo Parker).

For Holmes, one of the most damning aspects of being the famed Sherlock Holmes is having to live with the fiction written by his late partner Watson.  His partner's books portray him as something he's not, and he wants to tell his own version of the story before he dies.  Having been out of the detective business for three and a half decades, Holmes begins to reflect on what made him leave so long ago.  More specifically, Holmes is reflecting on his final case.  He reasons that it must have ended on a sour note.  This may just be the worthwhile story for which he's looking, if only he can remember it.  Meanwhile, Holmes introduces Roger to the art of beekeeping.

Mr. Holmes is an outstanding motion picture that uses the greatest fictional detective of all time to demonstrate the struggles of old age in a dignified way.  Really, it couldn't have been any other way with director Bill Condon at the helm and Sir Ian McKellen lighting up the camera.  Featuring gorgeous sweeping landscapes and a lovely melodic score, Mr. Holmes is a film that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is emotionally resonant.  It's a film that counters the notion that rules Holmes's life.  Facts and logic do not dictate what happens in the film, but emotions and heart do.  Holmes's search to rediscover long-forgotten memories is a search to find his heart.  In a sense, this makes Mr. Holmes less about the struggles and shortcomings of the elderly and more about the beauty and wisdom that can occur in one's golden years.

As our titular character Sherlock Holmes, Sir Ian McKellen is right at home.  He gives dueling performances of a man at very different points in his life, one as the middle-age Holmes at the sunset of his career and one as an elderly Holmes in his sunset years.  As the younger Holmes, McKellen is the suave, charming detective one would expect to see inhabiting the big screen.  As the older Holmes, the Shakespearean actor really sinks his teeth into the role with a measured interpretation of the aging character.  At times sharp-witted and grumpy and at others warm-hearted and grandfatherly, McKellen gives us a man navigating an inner struggle between his logic-driven self and the conflicted emotional being that resides within him.  Beyond this, he plays into the physical aspects of the performance with his walk, his talk, and his long pauses quite well.  All in all, McKellen's turn as the famed detective proves to be an outstanding venture for the esteemed thespian.

Mr. Holmes is an extraordinary piece of cinema that really takes our beloved detective in a different direction.  With strong direction from Condon and an outstanding performance from McKellen, the film doesn't disappoint one bit.  The facts of the case are that Mr. Holmes gets a sober rating.