Let’s state upfront that “Mr. Holmes” is a beautiful interesting film with excellent acting by Sir Ian McKellen and all his supporting cast which includes Laura Linney. It is based on a non-Doyle Sherlock Holmes novel called “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin.
The various plot strands include flashbacks that are easy to understand. The costumes (for each period) are beautiful and appropriate. The science (of bees) is easy to understand.
It’s a difficult film to love though. Even though all the strings are tied up, the story is difficult to watch.
Sherlock Holmes is in his 90s, living in the country amid his beloved bees, and fighting a failing memory. He has just returned from a trip to Japan with a new remedy for forgetfulness but it hasn’t help. He’s old, somewhat frail, and spends his time trying to write the true story of one of the stories that his friend, Dr. John Watson (now deceased) told. He wants to conclude this project before he, Holmes, dies.
Now why it’s a difficult film: it’s very, very difficult to watch Sir Ian cope with (fake) advancing mortality. Any watcher who has watched their own elderly parents deal with aging will recognize everything — and shudder. When Holmes falls out of bed onto the hard floor, you will flinch knowing how hard it will be on everyone if he breaks anything. When he admits he’s having problems with what a younger person sees as simple and easy, you want to cry – and I know someone who did. I wiped my eyes as well. The filmmakers slow down the plot with endless dwelling on his infirmities.
This can make a pretty grim flick. Pretty grim – more than that. Grim and slow. The overly elaborate and stuttering pacing makes you want to watch your watch (though you might feel disrespectful doing it. Holmes deserves respect as does McKellen’s performance.) Then again, if they cut back on dwelling on the mortality, it would be easier to enjoy the movie.
So, “Mr. Holmes” is a thought provoking film that isn’t that much fun. You’re warned.
Next week, an all-American fluffy summer ‘park brain, eat popcorn’ flick: Pixels!