We’ve had a fair few Holmes adaptations over the years, and maybe I’ve become too accustomed to Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the sleuth but a Holmes who is broadly amiable doesn’t really ring true to me. There are a few biting examples of his intellect here, but there may only be one minor incident in which he offends someone through his bluntness. Now I’m not asking each Sherlock iteration to be such a high functioning sociopath, but a kindly old man is not quite the Sherlock Holmes character I remember reading as a boy. The film does have its moments, and it’s nice to spend time with a more emotional and contemplative Holmes, but it doesn’t have much sticking power.
It’s a nice twist that this film’s detective work is into Homes’ own memory, where the villain who is obscuring all the clues is his own failing mind. It’s a strong idea on paper. In practice however it never fulfils on that most interesting of premises. The validity of his memories and the frustration of being unable to access them never really gets dealt with apart from in brief scatter-shot scenes, and Holmes is thus reduced to just being an old man who potters around with his bees whilst occasionally reliving a few old memories. It’s frustrating because this approach is fine in theory and holds plenty of real potential, but here it is lacking any real insight into either the character or the process of growing old and so feels rather like a missed opportunity. If only the balance between the film’s competing elements could hasve better struck, then we would have a fine film on our hands.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Mr Holmes‘ greatest triumph is Ian McKellen’s performance. The actor really does commit to the role and when the script allows him to, we feel his pain, frustration and regrets. He is more compelling as the older, frailer Holmes than the younger one we flashback to, although that no doubt has something to do with the fact that the mystery he is exploring in the past is lacking any palpable sense of mystery or intrigue. Given that the film’s straightforward detective segments feel very lightweight you have to wonder why make this a Holmes film at all? There are several promising narratives here but nothing gels and develops enough to make the exercise particularly worthwhile.
Mr Holmes isn’t an unpleasant experience. It’s cast all do a good job in their respective roles and whilst the film runs you feel caught up in the storyline and performances. It’s only when the credits roll that you sit up and realised that it never really came to much. The script says very little and fails to generate a decent, involving mystery to get caught up in, the emotional scenes don’t have any staying power but worst of all the mystery never gives you the feeling that you can solve it yourself. The best detective fiction lays out all the clues at the beginning so that you think you stand a chance of solving it as the narrative goes on. This just has linear snippets of him solving a case, the clues come when he suddenly remember them so all we can do is sit back whilst he solves a simple case. It’s a shame that this wasn’t considerably better, but ultimately if you’re looking for a way to pass some time on a Sunday afternoon you can do far worse.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Ian McKellen’s warm and considered performance.
Its greatest weakness? It isn’t affecting enough to warm our emotions, nor is it fiendish enough to stimulate our mind.
Would I see it again? I had a pleasant enough time with it, but no I think once was enough.
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