Mr. Holmes

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Mr. Holmes, drama, rated PG, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3 chiles

His friend John Wat­son, Sher­lock Holmes re­calls, took sub­stan­tial lib­er­ties with the facts in cre­at­ing the pop­u­lar tales of their ad­ven­tures to­gether. Dr. Wat­son en­livened those tales with his imag­i­na­tion; Holmes pro­fesses no use for that par­tic­u­lar fac­ulty, pre­fer­ring facts in­stead. The good doc­tor him­self de­scribed his writ­ing out­put, the old de­tec­tive re­mem­bers, as “penny dread­fuls, with an el­e­vated literary style.”

Di­rec­tor Bill Con­don, adapt­ing Mitch Cullin’s 2005 Sher­lock Holmes pas­tiche A Slight Trick of the Mind, brings an el­e­vated cin­e­matic style to an in­trigu­ing screen­play by Jeffrey Hatcher. Con­don, who won an adapt­ed­screen­play Os­car for his 1998 film, Gods and Mon­sters, about the last days of the great hor­ror di­rec­tor James Whale, teams again here with that film’s star, Ian McKellen, to give us the twi­light years of the world’s most fa­mous de­tec­tive.

It is 1947. Sher­lock Holmes is ninety-three, long re­tired, liv­ing in seclu­sion in Sus­sex, and keep­ing bees. He is cared for by his wid­owed house­keeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Lin­ney), and her pre­co­cious young son Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes is en­gaged in writ­ing his own rec­ol­lec­tions of his fi­nal case, one that still trou­bles him and that led him to give up de­tect­ing. Wat­son’s ac­count of the af­fair tricked it out with suc­cess, but Holmes re­mem­bers it dif­fer­ently . . . To the ex­tent that he can re­mem­ber it at all. That great mind is be­gin­ning to slip its moor­ings; that bril­liant mem­ory is be­gin­ning to fail. His doc­tor (Roger Al­lam) tells him to make a dot in his date­book ev­ery time he can’t re­call a name or a place. The book is soon dot­ted like a kid with chicken pox. But Holmes strug­gles along, writ­ing in or­der to jog his mem­ory.

The movie’s story weaves to­gether three strands. The first is set in Sus­sex and re­gards Holmes’ writ­ing, his re­la­tion­ship with Roger, and a mys­tery con­cern­ing the un­ex­plained death of some of his bees. A sec­ond in­volves a trip he takes to Ja­pan soon af­ter the end of World War II, dur­ing which a Mr. Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) helps him to lo­cate a rare herb, prickly ash, that is said to have restora­tive pow­ers for the mind and which they find grow­ing in the ashen waste­land of Hiroshima. (There is more to Umezaki than meets the eye, but Holmes’ is no or­di­nary eye.)

The third strand is a flash­back to the case Holmes is des­per­ately try­ing to re­call be­fore his pow­ers fail him. The Case of the Glass Ar­moni­cist, decades ear­lier, had Holmes trail­ing a young wife (Hat­tie Mo­ra­han) at her baf­fled hus­band’s be­hest. In Wat­son’s telling, it was another tri­umph, and the el­derly Holmes even finds him­self in a movie theater snort­ing at a Hol­ly­wood ver­sion of Wat­son’s ac­count. But some­thing went wrong — if he could only re­mem­ber what.

The great McKellen nav­i­gates the times and places of these nar­ra­tive threads with su­perb act­ing and ex­cel­lent age makeup. Young Parker makes a bright com­pan­ion, and Lin­ney, while not a per­fect fit as an English coun­try widow, does good work as well. — Jonathan Richards

“Ele­men­tary,” said he: Ian McKellen and Milo Parker

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