Reviewed by: Curtis McParland
Ian McKellen … Sherlock 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
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|Director||Bill Condon—“Kinsey” (2004), “Dreamgirls” (2006), “Gods and Monsters” (1998), “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” (2011)|
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|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
“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.
“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.