Release Date(s)2015 (November 10, 2015)
Studio(s)AI Film/BBC Films/Miramax (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D-
Sherlock Holmes. The name conjures images of a pipe, a deerstalker, and a keenly analytical mind – a brilliant consulting detective in his prime, applying deductive reasoning to solve the toughest crimes in Victorian era England. But what happens when that keen mind grows old? What becomes of the famous Sherlock Holmes when his immense powers of observation are dulled by age and the onset of senility? That’s the fascinating question that lies at the heart of Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes.
Based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, the film is set in Sussex in 1947. It finds Sherlock Holmes (played here by Ian McKellen) tending bees in retirement on a quiet farm overlooking the White Cliffs of Dover. He’s watched over here by his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (newcomer Milo Parker). As the film opens, Sherlock has just returned from a visit to Japan, where he combed the countryside in search of a plant extract that might be useful in treating his growing memory problems. Sherlock’s urgency is tied to the fact that he wishes to “correct the record” regarding the circumstances of his last case, which was fictionalized in print by his longtime (and now late) assistant, John Watson. Sherlock like to write his own account of the case… if only he could remember the details.
Helping him faithfully in this effort is young Roger, whose presence and ever-curious mind frequently helps to jog Sherlock’s own. In turn, Sherlock serves as a kind of father figure for the boy, whose own father (an RAF pilot) was killed in the war. But the deeper Sherlock and Roger get into the writing project, the more frustrated the older man gets. It seems that his last case took a tragic turn – the very reason he retired – but the details as to why continue to elude him. As he finally begin to uncover them, however, he makes another discovery. Sherlock has long eschewed close social and family ties, believing that the rewards of the intellect were enough to give meaning to his life. But as that intellect fades, he begins to realize that it’s the relationships he’s so often overlooked that bring him the truest meaning.
In many ways, Sherlock Holmes is the perfect role for Ian McKellen to play coming of his final turn as Gandalf in the Hobbit films. McKellen brilliantly portrays the character’s irrepressible sense of curiosity, even as he infuses Sherlock with a quiet dignity and no small amount of vulnerability. This is the kind of performance that even great actors can only give after gathering a lifetime of their own experiences. McKellen disappears into this role, which is no small trick given that we’ve seen very capable younger actors playing this character quite well in recent years. McKellen’s performance should certainly earn him a well-deserved Best Actor nod, at the least. The rest of the cast delivers too. Laura Linney is wonderful and restrained as always as she provides a good balance of maternal concern for both her son and Sherlock. And young Milo Parker is a genuine discovery. He’s the perfect foil for Sherlock’s charming yet irascible personality.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray delivers solid A/V quality. The film is presented in 1080p high-definition in a 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Colors are natural and accurate, contrast is sufficient, and overall detail is plenty satisfying. The English audio mix is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format. It’s a subtle mix, exactly what you’d expect for a drama of this type, offering mostly atmospheric ambience. Nevertheless, the dialogue is crisp and clear, and Carter Burwell’s expressive score is well presented.
Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of extras. You get a pair of EPK promotional clips (Mr. Holmes: The Icon and Mr. Holmes: The Story). They’re not even featurettes really. Each is less than three minutes in length. There’s a code for a Digital Copy. And you get the film’s theatrical trailer. I’d really have enjoyed a feature-length audio commentary with Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher at the very least, but such is not to be. The film deserves better.
Mr. Holmes is a delight. This is the kind of film they don’t make nearly enough of anymore. The script is smart, Bill Condon’s direction is deft and observant, and the cast truly shines. The Blu-ray is disappointingly movie-only, but at least it’s cheap – just $16 on Amazon at the moment. The film’s charms are more than worth it at that price. Mr. Holmes is not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt