Sherlock Holmes is living out a quiet retirement by the Sussex coast, where he tends to bees and tries to forget the life of celebrity he has left behind. As he heads towards the end of his life, he ponders the circumstances of his final case, the one that led to his self-imposed exile from the life of a consulting detective.
In the title role, Ian McKellen turns in a tour de force as the 93 year old Holmes, as well as his younger self of 30 years before. Playing the housekeeper, Laura Linney brings plenty of life to her usual emotionally damaged role. Alongside them is Milo Parker who is excellent as the housekeeper’s young son. McKellen and Parker strike up a heart-warming friendship. The elderly man does his best to provide a father figure for a child who has lost his own father during the war.
It’s well acted, well shot and unfolds at a gentle pace which is reminiscent of old-fashioned storytelling. In fact, it should be a classic, but there is something missing at the heart of this movie.
There isn’t a mystery. There isn’t a plot. There is nothing to unravel. What is the point of using Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation without giving him a conundrum to resolve? With the absence of any form of suspense, we are simply left with a story about an elderly man and his new young friend, which could have been about anyone. The use of the name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is just a hook for a rather uninspiring narrative.
Set in 1947, this film is a disappointing portrayal of Holmes in old age. Anyone interested in seeing the development of the detective in the years following his Victorian heyday would be better off reading His Last Bow, a collection of stories which takes events right up to the end of the First World War.
As a film about aging and memory loss, Mr. Holmes is a fine, artistic achievement. As a whodunit, it is nothing more than a unrewarding failure.