About half way through Mr Holmes, I got the feeling it wouldn’t seem out of place on your television set on a future Christmas Day, perhaps as one’s family sits around attempting to digest an unnecessarily large dinner. It has that sentimental, reflective quality to it befitting of the season. Furthermore, as Sir Ian McKellen is about as close to royalty as the industry now has (following the death of Christopher Lee earlier this month), one would not mind giving the film a suitably positive endorsement for said family as an all-encompassing, ‘comfortable’ viewing experience.
This movie is as family-friendly as mainstream cinema gets, which has an ironic ring to it considering the subject matter and certain plot details (neither of which I will spoil here) of this particular version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. I say this version because it is not, in fact, strictly Doyle’s Sherlock about whom we’re talking here. Mr Holmes is based on a story by author Mitch Cullin: A Slight Trick of the Mind, published ten years ago.
The character himself is now old, retired and suffering from considerable memory loss; to the extent that he struggles to recall the details of his last case before retirement, or even why he decided to retire at all. Much of the story (the investigation side of it at least) is told in flashbacks; like shreds of memory revealed to the audience as Mr Holmes gradually remembers them. Certainly, this is Sherlock as we’ve never seen him before, and the intrigue of that idea may be enough to compel you to see it.
In a sense though, that’s also the film’s main problem. This isn’t Sherlock; it doesn’t feel like him, but rather (at most) a caricature of who the man might be as an ageing pensioner. Considering also there are other versions of the character still very much in his prime (obviously thinking of the excellent BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch, and to an extent the less interesting American movies with Robert Downey Jr), Mr Holmes feels somewhat out of place.
As a standalone movie without the big names attached to it – in both the title character and his portrayal by a respected actor – it would frankly be worth little attention. There is nothing else of note here, and what could have been of note misses the mark. The investigation on offer, often the core attraction of any Holmes storyline, is a half hearted sub-plot serving a larger narrative full of sentiment.
Sir McKellen’s performance is admirable, unsurprisingly the film’s best attribute, but the material with which he has to work appears distinctly unoriginal and, crucially, lacks the signature qualities one would expect of a Sherlock Holmes story. Again, that wouldn’t be so much a problem if the film instead made up for it by finding its own niche… but it does not. In a year when we’ve also had Still Alice tackling the issue of Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Mr Holmes feels lightweight in comparison.
This is where my earlier observation, about Mr Holmes feeling like a movie for your television during the Christmas season, becomes perhaps the most disparaging remark one can make about the film. It is quite simply not one worth spending your money on at the cinema. While there were parts of it I found ‘nice’, and parts of it I found informative (bees play a fine role in the film’s central plot), there were larger parts of it during which I began feeling bored.
Then again, I recognise I may not be the appropriate demographic to get the most out of this experience, and those of a more… mellow disposition may instead find they really like it. I’m afraid I just didn’t.
4 / 10