Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) has to be kvelling in the afterlife knowing that over seventy actors have played his iconic detective “Sherlock Holmes”; Ian McKellen, the latest “Mr. Holmes” is stellar as the man in his dotage, loosing his prescient intellectual deductions, struggling against the evaporation of time, grappling to recall and right a thirty-year-old “cold” case, documented by Dr.Watson. McKellen’s tearful performance, directed by Bill Condon, resonates with the frustrations of memory loss, inability of one’s body to adhere to its mental commands, recognizing that medicinal remedies no longer stay off the inevitable.
Holmes is ninety-three, retired near the white cliffs of Dover; cared for by his irritable, illiterate housekeeper “Mrs. Munro” (fine portrayal by Laura Linney) and her precocious son “Roger” (enchanting Milo Parker); Sherlock and Roger’s relationship expands over tending the bee hives, tenderly cultivated by Holmes; and the elusive reality of Holmes’ haunting old case, involving an enigmatic, beautiful woman. Their bond is the heart and soul of the film; from mentor to protégé, ultimately friends, co-conspirators.
“Mr. Holmes” looses some of its pungency in the flashbacks, especially in his quest for the aphrodisiac to revive his fleeting, compromised memory.
Ian McKellen’s grasp of the ageing sleuth is cemented in dignity; disabilities notwithstanding, Sherlock Holmes lived and died on his own terms.