Mr. Holmes (2015)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
In an era obsessed with the facade of eternal youth, it warms my soul to see a film focusing on the beauty and pains of growing older gracefully. Though the film deals with mature topics, it never does so without a trace of hope.
Thirty years have passed since Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) abandoned the famous Baker Street and moved into the Sussex Downs to keep bees, but his reputation hangs about him like one of his bee-nets. To escape it, and in hope of finding a rare herb proven to restore memory loss, he travels to Japan and back again with his precious cargo. His return allows the son of his faithful housekeeper an opportunity to approach and ask Holmes if he ever intends to finish the short story half-written on his desk. It strives to "put right" a case that Watson altered, to maintain the integrity of the fictional Holmes. The real Holmes admits that he cannot remember all the circumstances of this particular case, only that it forced him into seclusion, and under Roger's encouragement strives to thread together the details that have long since slipped his mind, for Holmes is gradually easing into senility.
The case involved a young man distressed about the unusual behavior of his wife (Hattie Morahan). Intrigued by a case involving a woman obsessed with music, who has recently lost both her premature children, Holmes agrees to trail her daily activities... but his memory frequently lapses after a significant event in her story. While trying to piece together the events that led to his retirement, Holmes also befriends Roger, much to the concern of his mother (Laura Linney), and teaches him about keeping bees... among many other things. Little do any of them know, however, how much their lives will soon change...
Since this film has several simultaneous plots going on at once, as it shifts from the present into both the recent and distant past, it may be difficult for more casual viewers to follow. You must pay attention to and remember all three storylines simultaneously, since there is no warning prior to the shift-backs. It is a complex tangle of events that are rewarding to the patient viewer, a slower moving but ultimately powerful tale about a man nearing the end of his life and coming to terms with increasing memory loss. The underlining message is that one does not give up, but continues to move forward; and that it is good for the very young and the very old to spend time together. What I was left with was ultimately that there is a beauty in growing old, while at the same time, a sadness to it. It values human life, both in the old and in the unborn. It features a small nod to spirituality and having a greater purpose in life. And it does have a happy ending, though things turn grim for awhile.
McKellen turns in a wonderful performance, shifting between a man slowly forgetting things and who has a gentle twinkle in his eye as he delights in the wonder of a child. He can be harsh one moment and kind the next, regretful of his mistakes and wise in his advice to Roger, who in turn must learn to respect his mother, who is uneducated. The production is top notch all around, with a litany of familiar British faces -- including, perhaps as a wink to Holmes fans in general, a cameo by Nicholas Rowe, playing the great detective in a fictional film within the film. The film is based on a novel and contains its many twists and turns, but is somewhat easier to follow and very enjoyable overall. I saw it on a rainy afternoon with two friends, both of whom enjoyed it as much as I did.
A woman invites a man to run away with her, whom she is not married to; he declines. A physician mistakes the name of an herb and turns it into an innuendo.
A person is killed by a train; a person is stung en masse by wasps and nearly dies; a wasp nest is set on fire; a man falls out of bed and nearly hurts himself.
Holmes offers to read a woman's fortune in the palm of her hand.