There have been so many incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth that there aren’t many places for new adaptations to go. Bill Condon’s new version does go in a different direction, with Ian McKellen portraying a much older Holmes than we’re used to, changing the focus from intense detective work to Holmes’ retirement and his relatively quiet life. It’s a story about contemplation and relationships that works at a much slower pace than most Holmes media, but is all the better for it, and Condon’s intricate direction is perfectly suited to a film that may have some sleuthing, but is focused, for once, on the more human aspect of Holmes and his life.
There have been some strong performances of Holmes in recent years, most notably Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ and Robert Downey Jr. in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film series, but McKellen’s turn is one of the best that has ever been done. He encapsulates Holmes and gives him that humanity that the other actors sometimes forget to add since they’re so intent on accurately portraying his quirks and unique deductive ability. This portrayal of Holmes at his most vulnerable is arguably the most interesting. The flashes of brilliance are still there, but he’s also racked with self-doubt and retreating further and further in to himself, still haunted by one case which he wasn’t able to bring to the right conclusion. The other top performance comes from Milo Parker who plays Roger, a child whose mother helps to take care of Holmes, who is a great foil for Holmes and brings a lot of charisma to a role that could easily have descended into awfulness, which bodes well for his future career and shows that whilst child actors can often be extremely wooden, there are those like Parker who have a good future ahead of them.
‘Mr Holmes’ is a thoughtful yet captivating film that thrives on melancholy rather than excitement, more about life’s insecurities than the thrill of the chase, McKellen excels at portraying a Holmes past his best, where glimpses of his former greatness remain. He’s also fantastic in flashback sequences that detail the case that haunts him, and Condon makes sure to give him plenty of space to give another stellar performance. This film is a success of both screenwriting, courtesy of a brilliant screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, and direction since it is very difficult to take Holmes in any new angles, but this film is a welcome departure from the norm and explores whole new avenues that aren’t explored very often in Sherlock’s other guises.
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