Berlinale 2015: Ian McKellen and Bill Condon offer their own take on Sherlock Holmes
Seventeen years after they made the Oscar-winning James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters, director Bill Condon and star Ian McKellen reunite for this unique spin on Sherlock Holmes. Certainly, the two films bear comparison, with the esteemed thespian once again playing a figure looking back on his life with regret. This, though, takes a more slippery tack than McKellen's time as the director of Frankenstein.
Based on Mitch Cullin's novel A Slight Trick of the Mind – adapted by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher – and set in 1947, Mr Holmes finds Arthur Conan Doyle's creation aged 93, living in a Sussex retreat with his stern housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her 14-year-old son Roger (Milo Parker). There's no deerstalker and pipe either – that was a fictionalised Holmes in stories penned by his old colleague Dr Watson.
Holmes spends his days tending to his beloved bees, desperately clinging to his fading memories. One in particular keeps troubling him – that of his final case, some 30 years earlier, a sinister affair involving a husband and wife, Thomas and Ann Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy and Hattie Morahan) that caused Holmes to make a career-ending mistake.
Hatcher's script drifts back and forth through time quite elegantly, creating a mosaic-like structure that also fits in Holmes' recent trip to Japan and his burgeoning friendship with Roger, who takes an interest in the bees. As you might expect, McKellen is superb, dialling down the Gandalf gravitas to give a nuanced performance as Holmes. Linney is also on form as the frustrated widower, and young Milo Parker is a find.
It's a huge advancement on Condon's recent efforts like The Fifth Estate. Granted, the unhurried pace will frustrate some, while those looking for a really brain-teasing mystery will also be disappointed. But if you like the idea of a meditative, melancholic Holmes, this is for you.
Screening as part of the Berlin International Film Festival 2015. General release TBC.