Based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, Mr Holmes has a pretty fascinating premise.
It sees Sherlock Holmes in his 90s and retired in the country looking after his bees. There are a number of different threads in play, mostly revolving around his attempt to wrestle his way through the particulars of an old case – his last and the one which forced him into exile decades before.
This sets up a number of delicious avenues for director Bill Condon (reteaming with Ian McKellen after Gods and Monsters) to pursue. This includes an examination of the nature of memory and way fictions are created, all bound up in a story based on the expanded unreality of a made up character.
There’s a lot going on in Mr Holmes, and a surprising amount of it has to do with bees. That’s just one in a series of oddities which gives the film a very unique flavour, brought to life vividly with period production design (two periods to be precise) and wonderful lensing by Tobias A. Schliessler.
McKellan is wonderful as Holmes, with an arresting turn as the younger man at the height of his powers. But it’s the older Holmes which is most arresting, forcing the actor to portray a once great mind that’s fraying at the edges, the incredible intellect brought low but still capable of momentary brilliance. It’s a very real glimpse at the horrors of age and mental deterioration and one of the actors best performances.
The film itself is a strange and meandering beast and one which is in no hurry to tease out its major and minor mysteries. It’s a bit flabby in the middle and loses its focus towards the end, detracting a little from the strong work by McKellen and young Milo Parker.
Still it’s an often fascinating expansion on the mythology of Sherlock Holmes with plenty of thematic depth and a memorable performance from Sir Ian.