I became acquainted with eccentric consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, when I enrolled in a Victorian Literary Culture class at university, and just a couple of years later, I have now read every single Sherlock Holmes story ever written.
The Victorian era (1837 – 1901) has become synonymous with progression, innovation, and rapid social change. The Iiterary scene was much the same. Following the theatrical plots of the Gothic period, the Victorians became obsessed with dark and twisted stories filled with suspense, murder, mystery, and mayhem. Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary Sherlock Holmes, the man 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. From the very first case, A Study in Scarlet, I was immediately drawn into their adventures through the murky crime-ridden streets of 19th Century London and beyond.
After my first taste of Sherlock Holmes, I wanted more, and so began my obsession with the brilliant BBC adaptation, 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. While enduring the excruciating two year wait for the next season of Sherlock, I was naturally delighted that a new Sherlock Holmes themed film, based on the novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, by Mitch Cullin was soon coming to a cinema near me.
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 and tending to his beloved colony of bees on the grounds of his lovely seaside home, which is 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, however, the plot moves slowly in comparison to what we have come to expect from the more modern day 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 struggles 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 the theatrics of the novels. Mr Holmes is far removed from the familiar central London setting, Watson is dead and 221b Baker Street is just a faded memory. This story is centred on Holmes, and his relationship with his accidental sidekick, Roger. The film tracks a lovely chemistry and companionship 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 keeping the bees, and avoiding the omnipresent stares of Mrs Munro, which highlight her disapproval of their growing friendship. I won’t divulge any further details about the plot, as with any Sherlock Holmes adventure, this story is best enjoyed with some of the mystery still intact. This is a beautifully produced film, with some unexpected plot twists. As a dedicated Sherlock Holmes reader, I was mesmerised, and giggling at all of the inside jokes. Also, a beautiful musical score by Carter Burwell.