For Father’s Day – ★★★
Bill Condon’s film sees a withering 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes trying to crack a case that has lingered in his mind since his retirement. We encounter him living in the Sussex countryside with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son (Milo Parker), while he attempts to correct a story written by Dr. Watson in the pair’s heyday. As he tries to get his world–famous mind back in shape in order to recall the story, we’re treated to a Japanese adventure and flashbacks of Baker Street with Holmes in his pomp.
It’s surely no coincidence that Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes appears on cinema screens for Father’s Day. The film is the kind of thing that you can imagine sitting down to watch while sucking on a Werther’s Original with your Dad and Grandfather. Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a father himself but here, in his tenth decade, he forms a bond with the young boy he finds himself living with. It’s to Parker and McKellen’s immense credit that they manage to create such a strong character dynamic around some pretty poor writing.
McKellen really is superb, if you were in any doubt about his screen acting credentials (which is understandable considering he’s usually seen wearing a metal helmet or a big grey beard and wizard’s hat), then you’ll have them all answered here. His performance could have been exaggerated and laboured but instead McKellen plays it with more subtlely and tact than you might expect, allowing the audience’s own fears of memory-loss to do a lot of the work for him. Seeing such a familiar acting figure struggling with the effects of aging is actually quite moving and possibly all the more so right now, coming so soon after the passing of his adversary in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Christopher Lee.
Unfortunately while all the acting talent are top-notch, the same cannot be said for the story which is as confused as its protagonist. The inevitable twist in the tale and reveal arrives, but just got a big long hmmmm from me. It’s not clever enough to befit the world when we’re so used to from the books or the recent BBC adaptation.
We’re also missing a lot of the key elements from the Holmes world – Watson, Irene Adler, Moriarty and Mrs Hudson are all so beloved of the world that it’s strange to see Sherlock on screen without them involved and just referenced in passing. The film has been subject to legal challenges and there’s quite a lot of copyright complexity around the world created by Arthur Conan Doyle – Forbes has more if you’re interested. Whether this plays into the screen-writer’s thinking or whether it’s a creative choice to just show “Watson” from the back walking out of shot is irrelevant – it doesn’t work.
But putting these quibbles aside, there’s still quite charming about the whole film rendering it as solid Sunday afternoon viewing. Whether that needs to be on the big screen or a television matinee is up to you.
Released across Ireland on June 19th 2015