Release: 26th October 2015
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Long-retired and near the end of his life, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) grapples with an unreliable memory and must rely on his housekeeper’s son as he revisits the still-unsolved case that led to his retirement.
Director Bill Condon spent 2013 turning Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) into Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, for the undercooked yet intriguing Fifth Estate. Now he has spent 2015 turning another flamboyant silver haired oddball (Gandalf) into Sherlock Holmes. As you might have guessed, the results are magnetic….That’s an X-Men pun, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Mr. Holmes is less an ‘Arthur Conan Doyle Mystery’ and more a cross between Still Alice and Skellig. There are, of course, the usual trademarks of a glorified ITV drama; period settings, a racing piano-led score, lots of browns, greys and deep reds, posh voices declaring “Mrs”-this and “Sir”-that, skulking in the shadows, dodgy accents and plenty of raised voices. But this isn’t to say that Mr. Holmes is in any way indicative of a ‘standard’ period drama. In fact, the film has a true power that comes days after viewing; when you suddenly realise; “damn, that was actually a pretty good film!” Like the famous detective it depicts, Mr. Holmes is a slow moving, crafty work of nuanced intellect. But where Sherlock himself might be cold to the human experience, Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher are not, and the result is a surprisingly heartfelt and moving portrayal of a once great man struggling in his final years to discover what it means to be mortal.
This is a film about age, memory, loneliness and the power of forgiveness. Imagine Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven without a supernatural element, and you are somewhere in the same ballpark.
The bulk of the film’s narrative flits between an ailing Sherlock in his mid 90’s and a spryer Sherlock nearing retirement in his late 60’s. Post-war Japan crops up occasionally in the story, and the narrative and visual essence of those moments are so rich that it screams for its own movie. However, when the resolution for that particular section of the story arrives, it ambles in confused and disinterested; resolving itself in a way where we aren’t fully sure what actually happened.
Condon offers plenty of character development as we watch the chemistry between Sherlock and young Roger fizz and crackle; in fact it becomes strikingly apparent very early on, that the entire cast are excellent. And Martin Childs’ production design is outright lovely.
Everyone will tell you, “of course Ian McKellen as Holmes!” But he actually does his best work when humanising the character rather than playing with his more iconic traits. There are two specific scenes when McKellen sweeps the proverbial rug and bends our emotions to his will. There is such a power in what McKellen does, that we rarely see. But when he does flex it seems so effortless and simple, it is almost overwhelming. Laura Linney is wonderful as the weary Mrs. Munro, with Hattie Morahan and Hiroyuki Sanada packing some serious power in their small yet vital roles as Ann Kelmot and Tamiki Umezaki. The most surprising performance belongs to Milo Parker, who plays young Roger. Remember how Freddie Highmore made you feel in Finding Neverland? Parker is THAT good!
Film Grade: C+
Choosing between the DVD and Blu-Ray will come down solely to picture quality here, as both formats come with the same special features (a rare occurrence indeed). But even then, this lazy bunch of half-engaging Interviews might not be worth the bother.
If you’ve ever wondered what the dailies from a documentary might look like, here they are. With no visual narrative to connect the talking heads, we get sound bite anecdotes married with trite cue card promptings such as “Ian McKellen (Holmes) On The Story”; which basically results in someone detailing the film’s plot.
As you might expect, a few nuggets of interest can be found with the likes of Bill Condon. And if you want to hear the name ‘Magneto’ pronounced in a completely leftfield way, then it is worth seeking out Jeffrey Hatcher’s blurb. But mostly, you will just struggle to stay awake. Special features to snooze on.
Special Features Grade: D-
Ian McKellen described the film as “subtle”, and I think that is really rather apt, as this is a film which weaves its way into your heart. With McKellen surrounded by an excellent cast, and a honeycomb narrative (bee pun) that produces ever increasing treats; you’ll find Mr. Holmes to be a really rather lovely viewing experience. It is just a shame that beyond the film itself, there is only a bland collection of interviews that even the most attentive of sleuths would struggle to pay attention to.