Mr Holmes stares dismissively at the smart-quipping, socially unconventional Holmes of Cumberbatch, the stylised, action-packed freneticism of the Guy Ritchie film series and that thing that must be done in the American TV version that’s kept it on CBS for so long. Because the world can’t seem to get enough takes on Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Sir Ian McKellen stars in an adaptation of an expanded universe novel, written by someone else entirely. Despite the dignity and warmth McKellen automatically brings to this character, there is a feeling of scraping the barrel for source material and alternative takes on what has recently proven popular.
McKellen’s Holmes is an elderly, frail gentleman, clear on his last legs, living in a Sussex farmhouse along with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son (Milo Parker). He spends his time tending to his bees and writing his stories, not too pleased with how his former colleague John Watson embellished and added to their exploits, which have become wildly popular. This is the most interesting aspect of the character as Holmes realises he can not live up to his fictional self, neither with public perception or with how he sees himself, with his increasingly deteriorating mind and body.
The film uses flashbacks as Holmes grapples with memories of a hokey past case involving a couple who have suffered two miscarriages, a glass harmonica and the vague possibility of mystical powers. It’s camp, prolonged nonsense, which fails to offer much in the way of excitement or add much to the plodding, rummaging Holmes back in Sussex. It feels considerably longer than its 103 minute running time. Director Bill Condon slows everything down, every rummage in a drawer taking an eternity, without producing the catharsis deserved of a great, dying man. Admittedly, it couldn’t be much more different from the other contemporary versions, yet with plot so thin it relies too heavily on McKellen’s raspy trudging to drag it across the finish line.
Fans of Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes may be excited to hear that this version did employ a stunt coordinator as noted in the credits, but presumably that can only be for the part the great detective falls out of bed.
Review by David Rank
Mr Holmes is out now in the UK and US. Running time 103 mins. Certificate PG (UK).