“Mr. Holmes” is an imaginary and revisionist take on Sherlock Holmes as a 93-year old dispirited and retired detective, featuring the incomparable Ian McKellen in the title role. This 2015 British-American film , based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, takes place in Sussex two years after the end of the Second World War. This interpretation, among the many Sherlock Holmes we have seen, focuses on the lonely and contemplative man struggling to remember his last case, not the analytical mind associated with the world’s most famous fictional detective.
Holmes, in the first stages of dementia, retires to his remote country home in a Sussex village with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (the superb Laura Linney) and young son, Roger (played by the astonishing newcomer, Milo Parker, who is a standout in every scene with McKellen). The young boy and his dour mother are the only human contacts Holmes now has. Holmes’ memory isn’t what it used to be.
Soon we see that Holmes has forgotten much of his last case’s details as he tries to become accustomed to retirement. Holmes only remembers fragments of the case: a confrontation with a worried husband, a secret with his beautiful but unstable wife, and a puzzling side story about the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and a Japanese family. Having returned from a journey to Japan where, in search of a rare plant for dementia, Holmes has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare and seems visibly shaken. The little boy Roger gradually becomes his closest confidante and assistant in recollecting what happened to the woman in his final detective assignment.
What I loved about this film? It captures the nuances of aging, of losing the identity most treasured but now diminishing as dementia sets in. The pace, unfortunately, can be painfully slow , even for BBC. Multiple flashbacks do not help either, leaving the viewer to guess why these scenes are important, but often frustrating with plot holes (especially the Japanese subplot).
Although “Mr. Holmes” is not fast-paced and not to all tastes, it is a niche movie for those who like character-driven stories as the main plot. The layering effect of the years and lives and incidents in the story require close attention. “Mr. Holmes” is an introspective journey—into the rabbit hole of the mysteries of life and love, before it is too late to remember.