Holmes is back. Fans of the Baker Street-based detective have had a good week as not only did the BBC announce more episodes of Sherlock, but they also got to see the first picture of Sir Ian McKellen in the title role for the new Hollywood production, Mr Holmes. Directed by Bill Condon, this film has been flying below the radar, so what’s it all about?
Set in 1947, Holmes is now 93-years-old and living in the Sussex countryside with his housekeeper Mrs Munro (played by Laura Linney), her son (Milo Parker), and his beloved bees. The film is based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, whose novel Tideland was adapted by Terry Gilliam.
It has been adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, a screenwriter and playwright, who previously adapted historical dramas like The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley. His plays have included a Holmes adventure, as well as adaptations of classic detective novels by Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson.
As we can see from the papery skin in the picture, Holmes looks ancient. His great age plays a key role in the film, especially his failing mind, but also his obsession with extending his life. In the novel there are three parallel narratives.
In addition to his life in Sussex, the second tale concerns Holmes’s recent trip to Japan where he met a young man whose father visited the great detective many years before and has since disappeared. The third story is set in Holmes’s heyday, based on the unresolved Case Of The Glass Armonicist, about his investigations into a woman who keeps on disappearing on mysterious assignations.
Holmes is famously logical, but here his previous reliance on the powers of his mind begin to slip. Not only is his intelligence and memory failing him, but in Japan he saw the destruction that was wrought by the application of science – in the aftermath of the atom bomb.
Further, he is haunted by his past infatuation with the woman he was investigating in Victorian London. He must solve these complex cases of the heart while he still can. Not quite so elementary, Mr Holmes.
Other cast include Phil Davis (of East Enders and Quadrophenia), Frances de la Tour (legend of Rising Damp and more), Roger Allam, Hattie Morahan (presumably playing the woman who haunts Holmes’s dreams), Patrick Kennedy, and Hiroyuki Sanada (of Wolverine fame).
The mystery of Mr Holmes looks to be captivating indeed.