I first became acquainted with eccentric consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, when I enrolled in a Victorian Literary Culture class at university. From the very first case, A Study in Scarlet, I was immediately drawn into the murky crime-ridden streets of London, and within two years I had inhaled every single Sherlock Holmes story ever written.
The Victorian era (1837 – 1901) has become synonymous with progression, innovation, and rapid social change – and the literary scene was much the same. Following on from the theatrical plots of the Gothic period, the Victorians became obsessed with dark and twisted stories filled with murder, suspense and mystery, but they also wanted answers. Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective with the deer stalker hat and pipe could solve the unsolvable by applying his own unique brand of deductive logic akin to methods used in modern day forensic science.
After my literary taste of Sherlock Holmes, I wanted more and there began my obsession with the brilliant BBC adaptation of Sherlock. I binge watched the first six episodes on a flight from Sydney to Santiago and instantly fell in love with the chiselled cheekbones of Benedict Cumberbatch. After watching all of the available episodes, I found out that there would be an excruciating two year wait for the next season. During this period, I was delighted to discover a new Sherlock Holmes themed film, based on the novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, by Mitch Cullin.
Sir Ian McKellen plays a perfect 93 year old Sherlock Holmes, in a film aptly named, Mr Holmes. McKellen’s Sherlock seems to have softened with age as he endeavours to tie up some loose ends before his approaching death. The story begins in 1947 as Holmes returns from recently destroyed Hiroshima in Japan, where he travelled in search of a Prickly Ash plant thought to reverse the effects of memory loss, which he is currently suffering from. We quickly learn that elderly Sherlock Holmes has placed himself into self-imposed exile in the beautiful Sussex countryside as some kind of personal punishment for a botched case that continues to haunt him in his old age. Holmes lives a quiet life battling the onset of dementia tending to a colony of bees on the grounds of his home perched on the edge of the picturesque white cliffs of southern England. He lives with his stern housekeeper, Mrs Munro, and her charming bright son, Roger.
The film is aesthetically beautiful to watch, especially the gorgeous scenery. The pace moves noticeably slower than what modern fans have come to expect from the more contemporary adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Nevertheless, I was quickly engrossed in Holmes’ quest to unravel the details of his final case, The Lady in Grey. As the narrative progresses, Holmes is repeatedly troubled by fragments of memory involving a mysterious lady dressed in grey. He writes down the story with the help of young Roger as the memories slowly resurface. Holmes solved the case thirty years ago, and although the story was documented by Watson during their Baker Street days, Sherlock believes that Watson wrote a fictional account of the case to cover up a tragic truth. The only problem is that Holmes is struggling to piece everything back together with his rapidly deteriorating memory and fading detective skills.
As with any Sherlock Holmes story, there are twists and turns, but they are delivered without the usual theatrics. Mr Holmes is far removed from the familiar central London setting, Watson is dead and 221B Baker Street is just a faded memory. There are flashbacks, but much of this story is more centred on Holmes and his accidental sidekick, Roger, and the lovely chemistry and companionship shared between the two. Their camaraderie grows over their mutual interest in solving the mystery of the lady in grey, and many hours are spent together in the garden keeping the bees.
I won’t divulge any further details about the plot, as with any Sherlock Holmes adventure the story is best enjoyed with some of the mystery still intact. This is a visually stunning film with some unexpected plot twists. As a dedicated Sherlock Holmes reader, I was mesmerised and giggling at the many intertextual jokes. Much of the richness of this film though is reliant on prior knowledge and a certain level of fandom. I saw this film with my Mum, who found the plot a little lacklustre because many of the Holmes references went above her head. The mystery is not the most important element of this story and you do have to be quite invested in the character and backstory of Sherlock Holmes to get the most out of this lovely film. As a longtime Sherlock Holmes fan, I enjoyed every minute. The acting is superb, the musical score by Carter Burwell sets the tone beautifully, the Sussex Downs scenery is mesmerising, and the story introduced a Holmes I have never seen before – more human and real, the man behind the glamour and fame.
The trailer below will provide a snapshot of what to expect from this marvellous film, or if you don’t think this one is your cup of tea, be sure to search for alternative inspiration on my film review page.