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Movie Review

Mr. Holmes

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking.

Reviewed by: Curtis McParland

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Crime Mystery Drama Adaptation
1 hr. 44 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
July 17, 2015 (limited)
DVD: November 10, 2015
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Roadside Attractions

retirement and aging

solving mysteries

Featuring: Ian McKellenSherlock Holmes
Milo Parker … Roger
Laura Linney … Mrs. Munro
Hattie Morahan … Ann Kelmot
Patrick Kennedy … Thomas Kelmot
Hiroyuki Sanada … Tamiki Umezaki
Roger Allam … Dr. Barrie
Colin Starkey … Dr. John Watson
more »
Director: Bill Condon—“Dreamgirls” (2006), “Kinsey” (2004), “Gods and Monsters” (1998)
Producer: See-Saw Films
more »
Distributor: Roadside Attractions, a division of Lionsgate Films

“The man beyond the myth”

Sherlock Holmes returns to the big screen, but not in the way one might expect. In 1947, Mr. Holmes (Ian McKellen) finds himself retired and unsatisfied with the publication of his final case, written by his former partner John Watson. Holmes lives in a small farmhouse in the county of Sussex, England with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). At the age of 93, though, Holmes’ memory is gradually deteriorating as he struggles to write his own account of his final case. Through a series of flashbacks, the story of Mr. Holmes’ final case begins to unravel, as we witness just a small portion of the man behind the great legend. “Mr. Holmes” is a film that takes its viewers on a slow, but even paced journey as Sherlock yearns to improve his memory and piece together all that he remembers from his final case.

Even in his old age, Holmes is still able to find clues that begin to help him recollect his entire account of the case. Meanwhile, he develops a close relationship with Roger, as they begin to work together on bringing this final mystery back to life and find closure once and for all.

“Mr. Holmes” is a unique piece of cinema and a rare treat for filmgoers. Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is superb as he is supported in fine fashion by both Laura Linney and Milo Parker. The film has its slow moments and may be a bit hard to follow at times, due to the number of flashbacks, but, for patient filmgoers, this is a film that engages and opens up its audience to the inner being of Sherlock Holmes.

Bill Condon does a solid job of directing Jeffrey Hatcher’s script which is based in part on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin. Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is brought back to life as we are taken on a steady journey through beautiful British scenery and a slightly mysterious story. Do not expect great thrills and suspense, but a study of the “inner-self” of one of the greatest characters ever created.

“Mr. Holmes” contains minimal objectionable content. There is no sexual content, profane language, nor any violence to be concerned about. The closest we get to sexual content is a reference to a miscarriage and a family struggling to have children. The worst the language gets is one proper use of the word “damned” (used as a condemnation) and a very mild joke involving a plant called “prickly ash”—confusedly called “ashy prick” by a character. This will fly over most viewer’s heads. A character purchases poison in hopes of committing a murder, as well.

***Mild Spoiler*** A character commits suicide off-screen as we only see them step on railroad tracks and walk towards an approaching train. Another character falls out of a bed and is cut (minimal blood) and one other gets attacked by a swarm of wasps (off-screen). We briefly see the aftermath as the character lays on the ground, unconscious, and covered in welts. ***END SPOILER***

One more character is briefly seen from a distance with half the face scarred, apparently burned (not graphic). There is no alcohol consumption but a character does try to liquefy an herb in hopes of finding a remedy. He plans to inject himself with the substance, but passes out from the smoke before he can follow through with his plan. A reference is made to a cigar and a pipe. The herb “prickly ash” may make some viewers question if it is a controlled substance or not. Nonetheless, the drug content is very mild, so parents need not worry about these scenes. Perhaps this element of the film will help younger viewers understand the dreadful/harmful effects of smoking or any other form of illegal drug.

The film does not acknowledge much spirituality. There is a reference to Catholicism, though, and the subject of “spells” is brought up in a conversation, as well as a reference to “black art.” There is mention of the dead being “not so far away” and “on the other side of the wall.” A woman claims to have spoken to her dead children, which convinces her husband that she is crazed. However, all of these references are brief and not proved to be true, nor are any of these elements displayed on screen.

A character also lays out a few rocks in a circle which represent the most cherished loved ones in his life. He kneels and prays within the circle, but it is not revealed if this is a true act of worship to God or some form of mysticism instead. Holmes pretends to read a woman’s palm in order to retrieve more information about an investigation, and he also lies in a letter in hopes of being a comfort to someone who is in pain. A character also forges another’s signature in order to obtain funds from a bank.

Roger can be a little sassy at times and talks back to his mother in a couple of scenes. However, Holmes is appalled by his behavior and corrects Roger, persuading him to apologize to her. Holmes later tells Roger that “a good son always does what his mother asks.”

There is a lot to like about “Mr. Holmes”. Themes of friendship, love, family, and dealing with internal struggles all come into play in this mysterious drama. As mentioned above, Holmes develops a close relationship with Roger throughout the course of the film, as they take care of bee hives, read stories, and discover “forgotten” clues. Mrs. Munro has mixed feelings about Mr. Holmes in the beginning, but she slowly develops a deeper appreciation of his notable character. Holmes also gradually realizes his great need for both Mrs. Munro and Roger in his life and becomes more aware of the struggles others face—not just his own. He starts to see that it is not just about him, but others.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” —Matthew 7:12, NIV

Marriage is respected, as well, as a character convinces another to go back to her husband. “You have a husband who loves you”, he says.

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” —Matthew 10:39 (NIV)

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV) these encouraging words are found:

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

This verse applies greatly to “Mr. Holmes.” The film sets a good example of how one can encourage another—to lift each other up. Showing proper respect to our elders is also on display as Holmes corrects Roger on his angry behavior towards his mother.

“Honor your father and your mother…” says Exodus 20:12 (ESV).

Characters start to have peace of mind about their struggles and begin to walk on a straighter path as they continue to face their obstacles in life. It is a shame, though. There were plenty of opportunities to weave even more subtle Christian themes into “Mr. Holmes”. Characters may think they have come to peace eventually, but how? They try to solve things all on their own as fallible human beings—a Transcendent not even acknowledged. Jesus says in John 16:33 (ESV) that “…in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Answers to questions are being pursued and the resolution appears complicated to these characters. But the answer is simple. They just need to seek it; acknowledge it. One word is the answer: Jesus.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” —John 14:6 (ESV)

“Mr. Holmes” is a film that I highly recommend for the more mature audience. Not that there is any inappropriate content for younger viewers, but there are more mature themes on display here that may not be fully understood for children under the age of thirteen. Younger viewers may also become bored quickly due to its slow moving story and lack of action and suspense. However, this is probably going to be one of the cleanest and safest releases this summer (if not the year). I found it completely refreshing to watch a well written drama with zero sexual content, profane language, or strong violence.

“Mr. Holmes” only received a limited release in approximately 300-400 theaters. But if it is playing in your area, I recommend that you seize the opportunity to see this clean mystery/drama as it may not be playing very long due to the number of Hollywood blockbusters being released today. The film moves slowly and don’t expect much thrilling, suspenseful moments either. This is the story of a man who was highly well-known for solving mysteries. But now that he has reached his old age, he no longer solves mysteries but reflects on them and tries to come to peace by writing an accurate account of his final case. Seeing Ian McKellen outside of his infamous role as Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” series is quite the experience within itself. He shows that through his great acting skills he can bring a fictitious character to life and real the audience into his world: a world of mystery, hardship, but most of all… redemption.

”You will regret it [apologize] if you don’t”. “They always say that.” “Because it is true…” —Mr. Holmes on correcting Roger’s attitude.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” —Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

Violence: Mild / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I basically agree with the reviewer. A few minor issues, but, overall, a “better-than-average” adult-drama. There were several emotionally powerful scenes that managed to move the audience that I saw it with.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Derek, age 33 (USA)
Positive—The most powerful scene in the movie which had the greatest relevance to me at this point in my life was the one on the bench on the park when Mr Holmes asked if he would ever find love again (my interpretation). He goes on to find that get can and does find it in his care of Roger and his Mum. I found that inspiring and a reflection in the world of the Jesus’s most important command “to love thy neighbor as thyself and as I have loved you.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Vince Tolson , age 72 (USA)
Positive— “Mr. Holmes” has many marvels. I recommend seeing it. I found the Holmes logic, viewed under new and trying circumstances, to still be captivating, and admirable. I was, however, disturbed by Holmes” final act, one that is empathetic, but completely illogical. His newfound compassion would have us believe that he is tempering what had been a lack of feeling before. However, his act of compassion is a lie. It’s a very nice lie (most untruths are), but it is a lie nonetheless. I was moved by the deception at the same time I felt let down by it.

I have read the Holmes stories for most of my adolescent and adult life, and I know Holmes to be many things. Sentimental was never one of those things. The movie (which is as much of a statement of our times as it is of Holmes”) reminds me of a recent Supreme Court decision that, in redefining marriage, eschews logic in order to be empathetic and sentimental. No wonder Dr. Watson sat this one out.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Jim O'Neill, age 62 (USA)
Neutral—I went to see this with my wife and daughter—there were some things in the movie to be commended, but found the movie—overall—wanting. First, I need to say the Ian McKellen did a superb job in drawing us into Holmes” struggle as an aging man. It is not often that I become really involved in the story to really be interested in the character and “where” he is going in the story.

Second—not sure what Laura Linney was doing—her character seemed out of place, not in touch with the story. Did enjoy the interaction Holmes” has with her son—and I did like the ultimate end to the story between her and her son, and Holmes.

Third—the reviewer was correct; there are no references to a positive Christian worldview, and Holmes” character did have flaws from a Christian standpoint. From reading a palm (he did not believe in the practice) to lying, to the scene where he sets out stones in a circle and appears to have a “spiritual” moment—Holmes” character shows a distinctly non-Christian worldview.

Overall, I think the movie was better than many others, but not perfect. A reminder that Holmes has never been “Christian” and my thoughts wandered to the sadness that he was without Christ.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Casey, age 50 (USA)
Negative—“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.” (“The Hollow Men” by TS Eliot)

This poem came to mind as I thought how to characterize this movie. Sherlock Holmes fans will be quite disappointed, since Holmes is presented as a poor substitute of the man we know and admire from his case books. Holmes, in this movie, disavows most of the characteristics which we associate with him. Ian McKeller fans will also be disappointed since he plays a Holmes who suffers from dementia and is incoherent much of the time. The plot is so today-ish, as baby boomers despairingly face their failing health and failed dreams. Instead of lifting the audience up with a story which will encourage them in their suffering, it gets down and dwells in the mire and muck that these people live in.

Then again, Hollywood can’t write about what it doesn’t understand. The genre is existentialist (lots of questions, few answers) and the story will leave you with a rather let-down, tired sense of futility after seeing this movie. Disappointing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Chris, age 55 (USA)

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