Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker
Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Jeffrey Hatcher (Screenplay), from the novel by Mitch Cullin, based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Miramax/BBC Films, 2015
PG; 104 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)
I had to see this one, didn't I? Of course I did, though I hadn't realized it was based on a book. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those circumstances in which I now feel the need to go read the book, possibly because the film did a very nice job of its own so that I don't have any urge to revisit it all in prose.
On the flip side, this movie did instill in me the fear that Sir Ian McKellen might die soon. Please, please tell me it's only that he's such a very good actor.
The story is simple enough and neatly nested. An aging Holmes (McKellen) has retired to Sussex and keeps bees. He is tended by a housekeeper named Mrs. Munro (Linney) and her son Roger (Parker). At the start of the film, Holmes has just returned from a trip to Japan in which he has sought out the prickly ash plant in the hopes it will help him with his failing memory. Holmes is trying particularly to remember his final case, the one that drove him to retirement. He knows he must have failed, and badly, to have been so driven off his work. The memories come in flashes, thus the nesting of past into present.
It's a subtle movie and beautifully done. Mrs. Munro finds Holmes difficult to live with and care for, to the point she is ready to move on to a new situation, but her son Roger has a growing attachment to Holmes. And Holmes, too, becomes attached to Roger in his way; we see Holmes is his best self when with Roger. It is so understated, yet also unmistakable, this bond between the two.
I will say the score to the film was at times a bit much. There was nothing bad about the music except that at times I found it distracting.
And I would be remiss if I did not say YAY! to seeing Nicholas Rowe as Holmes again, if only briefly and in the form of a bad matinee. He was my first crush, after all.
Anyone hoping for Watson will be disappointed; we learn he has passed away, and even in flashback we never see his face.
All in all, it was a sweet, lovely, and solid film, nicely constructed and beautifully made.