You know that moment when James Bond is face to face with a collective of antagonists, and you wonder, how on earth will he make it out of this alive? And then you remember that he’s James Bond, and that famous literary characters who front mega franchises don’t just die. Well Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes neglects that notion, taking a venerable, mythical figure and humanising him: presenting the great Sherlock Holmes as an elderly gentleman, at the age of 93. He’s vulnerable, he’s tired and he’s mortal – transcending the usual limitations of characters of this ilk.
Retired, frail and now spending his days as a beekeeper, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) bides his times by the coast, with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). Though when he falls ill, he begins to look back across his remarkable life, and for all the solved cases, there remains one he never quite figured out: love – and in particular, the relationship with the elusive and beautiful Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan).
What this endeavour manages to achieve, is to form an emotional bond between the viewer and eponymous subject, as for the first time Sherlock is no longer somebody we’re merely in awe of, but somebody we can relate to. Nostalgia and regret are the key themes in this picture, and themes we can identify with. This notion is perpetuated by the filmmaker, in the meta humour that exists, where even Sherlock himself laughs at the media perception of him, and the famed yet false image. It turns out he doesn’t wear a deerstalker hat, nor does he smoke a pipe (“I prefer cigars”). The humour in this title is gentle and genial, which is most apparent in the friendship between Holmes and the young Roger – which brings out the more playful, mischievous nature to McKellen’s demeanour.
Nonetheless, the narrative is convoluted, and even Sherlock in his prime would have struggled to get to the bottom of it. We intertwine between the present day and flashbacks (including a trip to Japan) in a rather muddled fashion, losing track of where we are in proceedings. Maybe it’s a deliberate decision, allowing the viewer the chance to embody our lead and feel that same sense of disorientation? Or, you know, maybe not.