The essence of Sherlock Holmes is his amazing capacity to connect dots that other people don’t even see.
In 1947, the 93-year-old Holmes, portrayed by Ian McKellen, is having trouble doing that and longs to remember the details of his last case in 1917. Did he succeed with it or not? His urge to reconstruct its events despite his frequently failing memory is at the core of this relatively light plot.
Sherlock Holmes has been played many times. Current viewers might think of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) or Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), but the depictions stretch way back to 1900.
The Sherlock of this movie is based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, and he is clearly old-school, as well as old. A welcome variation? It has potential, but is not fully realised in detective mode.
This movie is more a character study than a whodunit tale; an essay on loneliness and ageing. When Holmes does make a connection, it often comes out of the blue or it is triggered by chance rather than detection.
He is an elderly, worried man who is living in self-exile in a Sussex farmhouse and who fears what his past may hold as much as he feels compelled to reclaim it and write it down. In the process he bonds with his housekeeper’s engaging son Roger Munro (Milo Parker), whose mother is beautifully played by Laura Linney.
Holmes’ inventor, Arthur Conan Doyle, visited Adelaide as part of a series of lectures on spiritualism, a theme that strongly connects to the 1917 case in question here. That angle is not especially arresting, despite being the central part of his quest to fill in gaps in his memory. There is also a Japanese-related subplot that feels stapled on rather than an integral component of the story.
There are a couple of in-jokes for die-hards but I won’t spoil the fun of spotting them. Several of the audience dressed in deerstalkers or more elaborate costumes. See it for that aspect of entertainment or for McKellen’s fine acting and you won’t be disappointed.
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