Berlinale: Mr. Holmes

Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker and Hiroyuki Sanada

by Joanna Orland

Ian McKellen is the go-to actor for taking on iconic literary characters and making them his own.  In Mr. Holmes, McKellen steps into the shoes of Sherlock Holmes – but not as we know him.  In this adaptation, Holmes is an elderly man approaching the end of his life.  His mind is on the brink of senility and his body barely able to carry him through the day as Mr. Holmes lives his last days reminiscing about his life’s regrets, and tending to his bees alongside his housekeeper’s young son in whom he sees much intellectual promise.

While this film centers around the well-known character of Sherlock Holmes, the point of the story is that this could be about anyone at the end of their life.  Examining life’s regrets and the acceptance of one’s mortality are what this film is truly about.  Any allusion to the character of Sherlock Holmes and the flashbacks to the mystery elements of his tale only provide a hindrance to the character development and the story at the forefront.  This film would fare better if the name Sherlock Holmes was removed from the equation, as it is about the humanity of people and what it is to live life post-war and past prime.

The mysterious flashbacks to Sherlock’s final case, the one he regrets most of all, make a poignant statement of what he regrets most in life, but also detract from the focus of Holmes in his later years, where this story should have stayed.  The other flashback of Holmes’ trip to Japan is more relevant than the one of his last case, as his time in Japan emphasizes his desperation to keep a grasp on his lucidity in the fight against his aging process and death.  This flashback thread also acts as another reminder of the horrid aftermath of life after World War two.  It is a nice compliment to the main reminder of life post-war which is in the form of Laura Linney’s Mrs. Munro.

The widow Mrs. Munro is Holmes’ housekeeper and cook.  She lives on his property with her young son Roger (Milo Parker) and strives to give him a better life.  She is a character who was clearly not a housekeeper before the war, and all that she lost is evident, even when unspoken, as the audience can sense her vulnerability and loss.  Linney portrays this character effortlessly with an English accent that even McKellen himself has stated to be “spot on”.  Laura Linney will never be anything less than perfect in my eyes, in spite of this film being so.

As an adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, this film is faithful.  As a classic Sherlock Holmes tale, this film is not.  Audiences who are expecting anything Holmesian will be pandered to in the flashback of his last case, but this is the weakest thread of the story, and without it, Mr. Holmes would be a much better film.

One Response to “Berlinale: Mr. Holmes”

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