Starring: Ian McKellan, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam and Phil Davis.
Directed by: Bill Condon
Cert: PG Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date: June 19th 2015
At the height of his success Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a letter to his mother saying he was thinking of ‘slaying Holmes’ such was his frustration at his creation’s success and demands from publishers to write more and more stories of the infamous detective. Almost 130 years later there is no sign of that popularity abating and here we have yet another look at the beguiling detective. Based on Mitch Cullin’s novel ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind’, it offers a fresh perspective on the man who has bewitched us with his intellect for over a century, presenting Holmes as a real person who did indeed solve crimes with Doctor Watson, who detailed their cases in his best-selling books, thus gaining Holmes infamy throughout the world.
Ian McKellan, in an Oscar worthy performance, portrays the detective in old age, long retired and living out his days in his country residence on the Sussex coast in 1947. Now 93, he is succumbing to dementia and the machinations of his mind are no longer what they were. He is haunted by a case he solved thirty years earlier (told through flashbacks), the outcome of which he has misplaced in the corridors of his mind. In trying to unlock the puzzle, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with his housekeeper’s son, Roger (an excellent Milo Parker) much to the disdain of his mother (played by Laura Linney).
Young Roger is in awe of the great detective and particularly admires Holmes’ ‘trick’ of reading people. A scene in which he asks Holmes to look at his mortified mother to figure out what she’s been doing that day is genius in McKellan’s hands and there’s an emotional punch that creeps up on you as their friendship grows. Milo Parker is a real find and Laura Linney though playing with a very tricky accent gives a smart and understated performance, allowing Parker and McKellan to shine.
As Holmes goes to great lengths to help retrieve his memories, we also see him in flashback on a journey to Japan in search of a herbal remedy to his dementia. He is desperate and a visit to the ashen landscape of Hiroshima mirrors the charred remains of Holmes’ memories as they crumble into his lonely existence, bereft of all his companions, now long passed.
Bill Condon, who also directed McKellan in the excellent Gods and Monsters allows the film to move slowly, carefully taking its time to bring together its conclusions. The pace is gentler than most current cinema fare but there is a reward in that of an intriguing story well told.
There is a nod also to the character’s everlasting appeal and longevity in a cameo by Nicholas Rowe, the former star of the 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes who appears as a fictionalised version of the sleuth proving that Sherlock may be 93 but he lives on forever.