3 stars
Sir Ian Gandalf McKellan and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) reunite for this unexpected take on Sherlock Holmes. Based on Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick Of The Mind, Sherlock is now 90 and his memory isn't what it used to be. This is a terrific concept which opens up a fascinating conversation about identity for without the qualities that once defined us (in this case, acute mental capacity), who are we?
The screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher (Stage Beauty / The Duchess) gets straight to the heart of the matter with an ailing Holmes (McKellan) now a captive in his own home. His put-upon housekeeper Mrs Munro (a pitch-perfect Laura Linney - The Fifth Estate) has become de-facto carer to the curmudgeon who is troubled by an unsolved case, one now slipping through his hands. Or rather, slipping through his mind as age and forgetfulness fight him all the way.

This is a world far remote from the Robert Downey Jnr / Guy Ritchie re-boot of 2009: anyone expecting an effects laden action-adventure should look elsewhere. Mr. Holmes is much more modest in scale as: in country England, 1947 Holmes is now a former celebrity through fiction, his adventures having been serialised by his former partner-turned-writer, Dr Watson. But that was years ago, and the rational, clear-thinking detective of yore is now facing a new opponent, his fiercest ever – emotional fatigue.

Consequently, Mr. Holmes is the kind of small framed work that recalls Condon's Gods And Monsters as it examines the treachery of age. Hatcher's script jumps back and forth in time which, apart from a lengthy and misjudged side-trip to Japan, reveals Holmes' many sides and emotional states. Most effective is an excursion to the cinema where he watches a Rathbone-esque B-movie about himself based on one of Watson's books. He scoffs with delight about the construct of pipe and deerstalker cap, and if all the film had this acuity, Mr. Holmes would be an absolute delight.

Rather, it falls short of its promise as thematic detours into narrative cul-de-sacs tear at the story's potential. Aspects of Cullin's novel that made sense on paper feel awkward or contrived when they're not simply distracting. Consequently, there's a precision missing from the story-telling which, given the subject matter, is most unfortunate. Once we're embroiled in Holmes' confusion, the finer points of Mr. Holmes become dull, lost.

Nonetheless, McKellen snarls and growls through his role with reasonable conviction while those in support are fine to outstanding. The revelation is Milo Parker who, as Mrs Munro's young son, a delightful counterpoint to Holmes, stands his ground against the seasoned veteran. Their relationship is both poignant and hopeful, and is the film's major asset.

Something of a mixed bag that is never quite as good as you want it to be, Mr. Holmes still offers just enough to satisfy as Mr. Holmes attempts to solve that one last case.


Previewed at Paramount Theatre, Sydney, on 8 May 2015


Ian McKellen
Laura Linney
Milo Parker
Frances De La Tour

Bill Condon

Jeffrey Hatcher



103 minutes

July 23, 2015
Ruben Guthrie (2015) on IMDb
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