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Review: Mr. Holmes

I was granted the rare opportunity to view a private screening of Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linny. Based off the 2005 A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullen (our interview with the author HERE), the story takes us to the beekeeping days of the now retired Sherlock Holmes.  Now, I have read the book so I knew a bit about what was coming and I knew at the least I was going to cry (ha, and what do you know I was totally right!)

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Holmes is now 30 years into his retirement and he’s got his quaint little cottage by the sea, a stern house keeper (played by the immaculate Laura Linney) with her little boy, and of course his bees. We meet a Holmes who is struggling with dementia, his once brilliant mind is beginning to wither away to the point that recalling his previous cases is a never ending struggle. McKellen says that he looked into his own personal self to convey this heartbreaking aspect of the story, examining how the body falls apart during dementia and channeling that into his performance. Between caring for the bees (and being quite affronted when people aren’t capable of telling the difference between a wasp and a bee), teaching young Roger the art of apology, and searching for a way to slow the degradation of his mind,  Holmes is writing of his last official case taken at the infamous 221B Baker Street. Writing the correct version he makes sure to note, saying that what Doctor Watson wrote is full of flowery fiction that neglects the cold logical facts. This however proves to be a struggle and the audience is given brief glimpses and clues to solve the case and find out what really happened.

Ian McKellen’s performance was, unsurprisingly, impeccable. Full of charming wit and razor sharp intellect, he delivered an admirable interpretation of a beloved character. It was painful to see something that affects so many today, and perhaps more so because Holmes’s pride has always been his mind. It’s that great mind that deduces and solves the crimes, a brilliant tool which process great swathes of information and delivered a conclusion. It was heart wrenching seeing it take its toll on Holmes, and it was this that brought me to tears while watching. “Sherlock we think we know well,” McKellen spoke at the press conference following the screening. “Sherlock Holmes turns out to have a beating heart and is now catching up to the emotional side of his life as he comes to his close.” It is this emotional journey plus the  failing of the world’s greatest mind that is the heart of Mr. Holmes, and indeed the original novel. It is given plenty of room in the film to breathe.

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Regrettably, there was a distinct lack of Watson, who many know did not actually follow Holmes into retirement. This was also the case in A Slight Trick of the Mind, however I couldn’t help but miss him.  To have a Holmes without Watson is a tragedy in itself, and one could not help but to wonder how the good doctor could have helped this aging mind into some peace. Thankfully there were glimpses of the man who was Holmes’ faithful friend; the odd hand in a flashback and a great shot of his back where just a bit of majestic mustache could be seen. Linney adds to this in saying that “[u]nderstanding why Sherlock Holmes made himself alone is what this film is about.”

When asked what Sherlock Holmes meant to him, McKellen gave a most poignant reply: “Don’t give up. Right to the end you can discover a lot about yourself and the world.” And this is very indicative of how he played Holmes, especially in terms of finally overcoming his denial of emotion in his younger years.

Overall I greatly enjoyed this film, from the gorgeous cinematography to the moving performances by Ian McKellen and Laura Linny. If you’re a Sherlockian, watch when convenient, if inconvenient, watch all the same. You’ll not regret it.  You’ll discover (or rediscover) that under the cold logic of Holmes is a soul that weeps and bleeds like any other. There is hope beyond terrible regret.

Mr. Holmes is out in theaters on July 17th in the United States and the 19th of June in the United Kingdom. You can buy the original novel on Amazon: US [x], UK [x].

Review by Sora, Baker Street Babes

Watch the trailer below.

Sora is the graphic design artist for The Baker Street Babes. She’s also the co-runner of The London Sherlockians and The San Diego Comic Con Sherlock fan meet-up group. Once a nurse, Sora is now doing a BA in graphic design in London.

You can follow her on twitter @MDSora.

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