Mr. Holmes

 

Ian McKellen is wondrous in the role of Sherlock Holmes in his dotage. At 75 years of age, he was most convincing, both as a 58-year-old still at the top of his mental faculties, and as a 93-year-old, stooped, forgetful, given to fits of nostalgia, and a certain inexplicable melancholy.

Sherlock has retired to his country cottage, keeping his bees.  Itís 1947 now, and the world is quite different for him:  he and Watson parted ways long ago.  He lives with the housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker).  Mrs. Munro is a stern, tight-lipped, rather joyless middle-aged woman, whoís always talking about taking another housekeeping job somewhere else.  But Roger has become fascinated with all things Sherlock, including the myriad collections in his cluttered desk, and the mysterious womanís glove in a secret drawer.  Mr. Holmes has decided that Watson, though a prolific writer, did not get the facts of many of the cases right, especially the last one, involving the Ann Kelmot case, which ended so badly that it drive Mr. Holmes into retirement.  Not that he couldnít deduce the facts of the case; he could, and did.  But he missed something very important: people donít just need the facts recited to them; they could use a little compassion.  Especially in the midst of their own desperate self-deceptions.  Just because you know the brutal truth about someone doesnít mean you should tell them, because without our precious pretensions, we are laid bare like a gutted corpse.

Director Bill Condon skillfully weaves the soothing score with some gentle interaction between the irascible old man and the guileless young boy.  Itís not that Sherlock Holmes is unaccustomed to a little hero worship; itís just that this time, he sees something of himself in the always-curious Roger.  The February-December relationship carries its own poignancy, and Mrs. Munro is correct in feeling a little left out here.  Sheís neither the wizened mentor nor the wide-eyed apprentice.  But she is always pragmatic, which both professor and pupil need in constant doses.

Thereís a subplot here about Mr. Holmes traveling to Japan to visit the son of a diplomat who claimed to know him in London, before The Blitz.  At first, Mr. Holmes was brutally blunt about never having met the man, telling his son that itís not unusual for people to wrap their cowardice in false patriotism.  Later, as Mr. Holmes slowly realizes that human truth is more complicated, he writes the son an exculpatory letter which is designed to placate, even comfort.  Perhaps age has helped ameliorate some of the great detectiveís patented arrogance.  But the viewer is served a painful reminder of the horrors of Hiroshima (without the context which produced it), which seems a bit theatrical, even for the movies.

Nonetheless, ďMr.HolmesĒ remains a winsome character study of a fictional personality so vivid heís acquired his own cultural reality.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas