In the twilight years of his life, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired to Sussex, where he lives with his housekeeper Mrs Monro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). Determined to defeat the ravage of age on his mind, and to remember the details of the final case he took, the one that drove him out of the career he loved so much, Holmes strikes up an unusual friendship with the young child living so close to him.
Before we go any further, it is worth pointing out that Mr Holmes feels not only heavily inspired by Finding Neverland – the Johnny Depp JM Barrie flick – and an attempt to cash in on the newfound resurgence in love for the world’s famous detective thanks to a certain TV show.
Ian McKellen is on his usual fine form as Sherlock Holmes, and seems to have perfected the facial expression of a bulldog chewing a wasp; which he wears almost consistently for the first half of the film. McKellen is the heart and soul of the film, and ably carries the entire shebang through his strong performance. Laura Linney seems to be a little lost as the bullish housekeeper. It is not immediately clear why she is there, and why she seems so enraged all the time, but this seems to be the fault of casting and storytelling, rather than that of the actress herself. Milo Parker works well with Ian McKellen, but again seems to have some personality issues as his actions are not always fully explained.
The story, adapted by Mitch Cullin from his own novel A Light Trick of the Mind, focuses on Sherlock Holmes as his mind starts to fail him. This is an interesting road for the film to explore, since Holmes relies on logic and deduction in every day life, but in trying to cram this story, as well as one from Holmes’ past and a new friendship, into the film, it often feels like there is far too much going on, and not each subplot is as interesting as the last. There are some nice moments in the film, however – such as Holmes finally realising the need for human emotion – but the friendship between Holmes and Roger often feels forced, as though it is trying to add too much sweetness to a character who was never plagued by human emotionality.
Director Bill Condon tries to weave the stories of past and present together, but the trouble is that the past case is the part of the film that is truly interesting – for the most part – but this turns out to be as disappointing as the superficial examination of what it is like for an man who has always relied on his intellect to slowly lose his mental power. Thank god then, for Ian McKellen, who carries the film well, and manages to keep audience interest through his powerful performance, even as he is let down by a shoddy story.
In all, Mr Holmes feels like a cheap knock off of Finding Neverland. McKellen easily carries the film, and is engaging enough to keep the audience’s interest, but he is often stifled by the screenplay, and the desire to show the human side of a character who never needed one before.