At 93 Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is very frail and now walks with a cane. We are in 1947 and Holmes is just coming back from Japan with prickly ash jelly to help his failing memory. He has retired to a small estate on the south coast of England. His housekeeper is the stern Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), a widow living there with her young son Roger (Milo Parker). Old Sherlock Holmes wants to remember his last case as a detective. Thirty years previously a man (Patrick Kennedy) asked Holmes to follow his wife (Hattie Morahan) to find out if she was going crazy. After that case he abruptly abandoned detective work and left London to live in the country. The book written about that case was penned in the film by Holmes’s friend and collaborator Dr. John Watson and not the original author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes thinks that Watson toyed too much with the story and wants to write his own version of events. The problem is to remember what happened. And he is trying to remember why he went to Japan a few months ago and the name of the man he went to see (Hiroyuki Sanada). As if that was not enough, Holmes is keeping busy with his beekeeping hobby and he enlists young Roger to help him. Roger has read everything written about Sherlock Holmes and is in awe, enthralled in front of his hero. That does nothing to soothe Holmes’s already wobbly relationship with Mrs. Munro. Confused yet? There is a lot to digest here as we try to find our way out of the labyrinth. There is maybe too much. There are the flashbacks to the time when Holmes was in his sixties and to his trip in Japan thirty years later and the scenes with Holmes at home at 93. Adding to the confusion is McKellen’s diction. He sometimes whispers or mumbles some of his lines. Otherwise, it is a great performance. Milo Parker is perfect, pointedly being in turn excited and enthusiastic with Holmes, and rebellious with his mother. Linney’s job is more difficult. She has to play a character who is dry and at first glance unappealing. The actress holds back, not letting us read into Mrs. Munro’s mind, and also holds back on the accent. It is consistent, I’m not sure it is British or American. Or anything. Maybe that is Linney’s aim. Isn’t Holmes the important character in the film. At least she’s not chewing the scenery. And I think Ian McKellen plays well with those two actors. The costumes and the sets are excellent. In a film where the main actor ages thirty years, I would say the makeup is an important part of the making believe machine. And it is also very good. Tobias A. Schliessler’s cinematography could not be more perfect, showing us the beautiful scenery. Director Bill Condon has worked with McKellen on Gods and monsters, and with Linney on Kinsey. And another frequent collaborator is composer Carter Burwell. Here Burwell finds exactly the right colors, just as he did with Kinsey. All warmth.
Based on the novel A slight trick of the mind by Mitch Cullin and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle
Rated Parental Guidance