Mr. Holmes (2015)
dir. Bill Condon
written by: Jeffrey Hatcher
starring: Ian McKellan, Laura Linney, Milo Parker
3 out of 4 stars
Seeing Sir Ian McKellan as a very old man is disconcerting. As not only one of the best LGBT actors but also the portrayer of Magneto and Gandalf, the slant faced, feeble McKellan in Mr. Holmes makes one fear the actor is actually that close to the end. Luckily, that can just be chalked up to fantastic make up work. Playing an elderly Sherlock Holmes, McKellan is perfectly placed into yet again another iconic role.
In Mr. Holmes, Sherlock has returned to his country estate to care for his bees and manage his early dementia symptoms. Along with maintaining his bee hives, Holmes befriend the young son of his housekeeper, at first reluctantly but with growing affection as Holmes does enjoy an admirer. Mother is not too keen, but the boy encourages Holmes revisiting his last case, even as he is forgetting so very much.
The story is genuine and cute. Ian McKellen, as always, produces precisely the right characterization needed for the role. Bouncing between an elderly forgetful Holmes and the younger, sharper Sherlock, he maintains the role with various stages of brain degradation. His physical performance in the older man feeds from his Shakespearean roots, evoking Richard III with a less salty demeanor.
Newcomer Milo Parker as Roger Munro, the young companion of the elderly sleuth, is a surprising delight. Friendly and precocious, he surprisingly avoids the obnoxious role plaguing most child actors. Always comfortable and natural against a legend such as McKellen/Holmes, he drives the story and, unlike most actors his age, doesn’t make you want to remove his scenes from your memory.
Unfortunately, Laura Linney, Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs. Munro, is less spectacular. A minor role as it is, making this confident actress into the dowdy, bitter housekeeper is a waste for an actress so capable of more impressive dramatics. As noteless as the role is, I can’t fully attribute her lackluster performance to direction or writing, but instead it feels Linney was not committed to this part. I encourage her returning to more You Can Count on Me-style roles.
Director Bill Condon, having previously worked with McKellan and Linney, returns with his crisp directorial style. Banking on wide country shots and close human interactions, the movie is reminiscent of Gods and Monsters and Kinsey in style, if much lighter in substance. Though he is an accomplished screenwriter (Oscar winning for Gods and Monsters and skilled with a musical), he is working from a script by Jeffrey Hatcher, best known for subpar costume dramas Casanova and The Duchess. The screenplay, an improvement over his past work, is limiting in its family friendly vibe. Lacking much of any spark that make the Cumberbatch Sherlock so appealing, the film is limited in scope and winds up lacking the substance of many other Sherlock adventures.
That aside, Mr. Holmes is enjoyable, family friendly fare. Always a pleasure to see Ian McKellan owning a part, it was about time her channelled the famous British sleuth. Without delving into the nitty gritty, Condon produced a measured, entertaining bit exploring the only untouched portion of this ever present English detective.