Mr Holmes – Sir McKellan as the Great Detective

Teaser_poster_for_Mr_HolmesSir Ian McKellan plays the role he was made for – the famous Baker Street detective.

Sherlock Holmes is the most iconic detective of all time, the mnemonically gifted, clue deducing, dryly sarcastic and insightful sleuth popping up in a range of adaptations and varying visual mediums.

Major name actors have graced the persona in big screen and serial adaptations, from Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr to Basil Rathbone. None other than the giant of acting, Sir Ian McKellan, is now lending himself to a most unusual depiction of Sherlock Holmes – focusing on his later years of retirement.


“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

Based on the novel ‘Slight Trick of the Mind’ by Mitch Cullin, the story takes us to the location of Holmes’ autumn years, a quiet cottage by the sea, with Sherlock tending to his bees whilst he copes with his tragically diminishing mental faculties. His last unsolved mystery, the case that pushed him into early retirement, still looms in his life, and accompanied by his housekeeper’s young son, he reignites the long cold trail.

mr-holmes-ian-mckellen-860x442Judging by the literal origin of the script, this film may cause some controversy as Holmes appears to be able to express a warmth and kindness that he was unable to do prior, seemingly having become almost likable in a very human way. I know I will find this hard to accept – his appeal was always his detachment, his air of superiority and ability to ‘walk between the raindrops’. This is why his persona and character is so east to adapt, as Holmes remains a timeless man, who with suitable knowledge of the time-period and its details, would appear to be quite happy to solve and deduce mysteries no matter where you dropped him – as long as you left him alone.

“He [Holmes] loved to lie in the very centre of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumor or suspicion of unsolved crime.”

-The Resident Patient


mr-holmes-ian-mckellenThe trailer reveals imagery more akin to Remains of the Day than the flashy BBC and theater adaptations of recent years, at least at first, with images of rolling English countryside and placid rural existence. Holmes appears to grapple with his unresolved case and we also see him responding to the already growing misrepresentations of both him and his work in popular culture. That alone is a compelling aspect, as one always wonders how he would respond to depictions of himself.

We’re granted respite from the sadness of his failing capacity with visions and flash-backs of prior years – here Sir McKellan exhibits mastery of his art by depicting Holmes across multiple decades of his life, playing the man both 20 years his junior and senior. As the younger, he has regained his familiar vigor and confidence – reassuring to say the least – could it be that torpidity truly was the reason for his downfall?

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.”

-The Sign of Four

The tone also appears to be far sleepier and more relaxed than many of the louder, more flamboyant representations of recent years. Additionally, I appreciate the smaller teases, taking the opportunity to debunk the deerstalker hat, that popular yet erroneously attributed item of apparel, as well as providing a heart-breaking example of his failing, once vaunted faculties as he recalls a name by checking the writing on his sleeve.


31-slight-trick-of-the-mind-688x1024The movie’s release has not been without its challenges. Legal representatives of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate launched a suit against the director and the distributors for copyright infringement, the lawsuit being filed on the eve of the great authors 156th birthday. The lawsuit claims that whilst most of the Holmes writings are in the public domain, the ten or so that remain under copyright, specifically those that deal with Holmes’ later years, have been plagiarized wholesale, both in the originating book and the movie itself. They seek to prevent the U.S. release by filing the suit in New Mexico.

We’ll see if they’re successful in their claims, although previous attempts by the Doyle Estate have been unsuccessful in claiming royalties for works now considered public domain. I feel the case has little grounding (and I’m sure Sir Doyle would feel the same way) but the U.S. legal system is a tricky beast.


To observe the deterioration of his magnificent brain will be both heart-felt and heart-breaking for any Holmesian aficionado to witness; like realizing Narnia doesn’t exist, he will become irredeemably human. I’m not sure how I will respond to him becoming doddering and forgetful, so to avoid being themed as an depressing tragedy, I hope the film might skirt between the nature of intelligence and memory – can someone perpetually forget and yet still have the cognitive machinery to comprehend and resolve? Can the essence of Sherlock be preserved even as his mind fails him? We shall see…

Mr Holmes opens in the U.S. on July 17th, 2015

Dr. Pembroke – surgeon, physician, alienist; his primary focus is weird and enlightening stories of medical history. Sometimes, he also reviews movies. You can enjoy more of his musings, articles and general nuttery HERE.


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