This version of the Sherlock Holmes story (one critic references 254 appearances as of 2012, stating that Sherlock Holmes is the most-portrayed fictional character of all time), is directed by Academy Award winning Bill Condon, and stars the 76 year-old Academy Award nominee Ian McKellen (Magneto from the X-Men films and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films) as the 93 year-old Holmes. McKellen’s last collaboration with director Bill Condon was 1998’s Gods and Monsters. The new film is based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind.
The film is set in 1947 and Holmes has been retired for 35 years. He lives in a seaside English cottage on the Dover coast with his widowed housekeeper Mrs. Munro, whose husband died in the war (Academy Award nominee Laura Linney), and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). Mr. Holmes a beekeeper, and is interested in exotic herbal medicines to help him with his fading memory. We hear several references from Holmes about how his stories were embellished by his friend Dr. Watson. We see Holmes in a movie theatre watching The Lady in Grey in which he is played by Nicholas Rowe, who really did portray Holmes in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes.
We feel a deep sadness in Holmes, but with his fading memory he can’t remember the exact reasons for his despair. He does recall it has something to do with his final case some 35 years earlier (we see several flashbacks), and thus he tries to piece the story together sharing it with young Roger, who also takes an interest in beekeeping. Holmes in some ways becomes the father that Roger was too young to remember. This movie does a good job of portraying opening your heart to new relationships after walling it off from hurt for many years.
A side story involves a trip to Japan to meet Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) and to find a plant (prickly ash) that Holmes hopes will help him with his memory loss.
I really enjoyed this film, but found it much sadder than I had expected. The acting performances are superb from McKellen, Linney and the young Parker. I wouldn’t be surprised if McKellen receives a “Best Actor” nomination. The movie is beautifully filmed and captures the seaside cottage location wonderfully, and the costumes are meticulous.