Don’t get me wrong: i like my entertainment light, trivial and frothy. Which is why i so enjoy cinema.
Whether it is Schwarzenneger with the fantastical notion that through science and technology, it is possible to re-create a being who looks exactly the same as when he first appeared on our screens 30 years ago. Or Channing Tatum, likewise attempting to breathe fresh life into a part first seen on-screen in 2012, in Magic Mike 2. Or just the sheer giggle-a-minute comedy of Minions, i love them all.
Still, there is desire, occasionally for a bit of substance. And in Mr Holmes, directed by Bill Condon, substance is exactly what you will get. Forget the pyrotechnics of Robert Downey’s Sherlock Holmes. Put aside the moustache-twirling pantomime of Basil Rathbone (caricatured briefly here in a scene from Lady in Grey, a pastiche on 1940’s detective noir, inserted into the action and – in-joke alert! – featuring Nicholas Rowe, star of 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes).
A failing fading Sherlock
This is Sherlock as you have not seen him before. Aged, infirm, not long for this world, Ian McKellen, in the title role, is struggling to understand failure. What was the awful mistake in his last case that drove him from the detective business and into self-imposed exile on the coast?
Simple? It should be: but how do you resolve a case, when you are forgetting: the lapses in memory, ever more frequent, chronicled as a series of dark marks increasingly obliterating the pages of your daily journal. The villain here is not dome diabolical adversary, but Sherlock’s own fading intellect.
Action flits between a present (1947) in which our very aged Holmes is looked after by angry housekeeper, Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker), and a past, some thirty years previous, in which Holmes investigates the case of Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan), a woman driven to madness, according to husband Thomas (Patrick Kennedy), through miscarriage and the loss of her children.
No-one does curmudgeon like McKellen – and this is McKellen at his grumpiest grouchiest best. Outwardly, a selfish old man with little thought for others, his relationship with Roger, a boy made too-early a man by the wartime death of his father, is transformative for all involved. Despite maternal disapproval, Holmes’ love of bee-keeping creates a bond between him and Roger which first upsets relations with his mother and then brings them back together.
As for the past: no more spoilers! Let us reveal only that Holmes final and greatest insight is that he failed BECAUSE he solved the case. Or rather, he solved the factual, piecing together clues, like abstract crossword puzzle, and quite failed to understand that people are more than facts and clues. They have thoughts and feelings too.
One final triumph
Late – too late, perhaps – he realises that people matter.
There is a sadness to this film, but in the end, sadness is transcended. The end is insight and self-knowledge and, even if it has come late to Homes’ life, come it has and his understanding and acceptance of that is heroic and uplifting.
Fireworks, no? But if you want to see a fine film, finely crafted in all its aspects, take some time out to see Mr Holmes. You won’t be disappointed.