Mr. Holmes: A Very Short Review

by Brenda W. Clough

mr-holmes-glass-thumb It is a truth universally acknowledged that movies are targeted at the young. The summer blockbusters, the fantasy trilogies, the reboots of Star Wars and the Fantastic Four — they’re all designed for moviegoers under the age of 25.

But look closer in the movie listings and you can find the movies that aren’t. There are movies specifically tailored for the older viewer. A great example of this would be Mr. Holmes (2015), starring the incomparable Ian McKellen. Based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, this movie is a meditation on age. Even Sherlock Holmes has some things he needs to accomplish before he dies. As in so many nouveau-Holmes works — everything from Laurie King to Nicholas Meyer — the creators are driven to increase the Great Detective’s emotional ties. No one can accept Holmes as he was written, as the logical and emotionless detective genius. He has to have hidden depths of heart, and authors insist on plumbing them — I’ve done it myself.

The problems the aged Holmes faces here are not those of the bildungsroman. No empires are saved here, no princesses rescued. Instead he is in quest of the things that the old are looking for: closure, forgiveness, the setting of things right before it is too late. It is beautiful, and will stay with you in a way that a CGI battle between Norse deities won’t.


McKellen’s acting is superb in this. You can watch his face and see Holmes drift in and out of focus; those moments when the aged eyes suddenly blaze into life are magical.There are no superpowers, no explosions, no SFX in this movie — just amazing acting and a powerful script.
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Mr. Holmes: A Very Short Review — 6 Comments

  1. I found myself, during those moments when Holmes lapses into disorganized feebleness, thinking “NO! Don’t be old! No!” It’s a testament to how thoroughly McKellan’s performance creates Holmes’s intelligence and the devastating effect of sliding toward senility–a slide which stops, reverses, and starts again a number of times. It is, in the oddest way, a thoroughly exhilarating film.

  2. I am certain it is available on disc, Netflix, etc. This is, thank God, not the kind of movie you need a big screen for to get the full value from the explosions and the CGI.
    The other issue I’d have with it is Holmes living until post-WW2. The movie must take place, at the very earliest, in 1946. Since the Great Detective first appeared in 1887, he must have been at the minimum 20 years old, when he first met James Watson, even if we assume that Doyle was writing an up-to-the minute story set in the year of publication. Can we conceive of the man in A STUDY IN SCARLET being a mere 20 years old? That would make him 79 in 1946. Cutting it fine!

  3. I found the film frustrating and on the whole, unsatisfying. It felt thematically incoherent, with its foregrounding of romance and memory and parental abandonment, etc — to many deep issues with nothing to say about any of them. And, indeed, the one thing I want from a movie about Holmes, which is difficult to find in the best of cases, is a little mystery. The mystery here was artificially induced — simply a not remembering, not a need to discover. And when the romantic mystery was uncovered, the further twist was so obvious that Holmes’ mistake made him seem a dunce, not the great detective we should admire.

    It seems like a basic principle of good writing that if there are going to be three separate threads in a narrative, they should come together in some way, plot, theme, character, and become something greater than the sum of their parts. These three threads didn’t, and on the whole it was a disappointing offering.

  4. I have to read the book, to determine how many of the problems with the plot revolve around the original work rather than the movie adaptation. I think that any work about the aged Holmes is going to have a less-prominent mystery. The man is old, after all.