Mr Holmes is a film about grief- profound sorrow and the loss which creates it. Loss, whether of a husband, a father, a son or a brother and notably, that most deeply personal loss, of a person sensing the deterioration of their own mind. This theme runs at the heart of Mr Holmes, which is a deeply moving examination of loss and the way it can shape a life.
At its heart of course is Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen, in what is arguably a career best performance), the great detective and more; a living legend, whose weariness of his own celebrity has driven him out of London and deep into the Sussex countryside. There he spends his days tending to Beehives and trying to come to terms with his past. He, as we learn, is not the deerstalker-wearing, pipe smoking man of legend but an altogether more modest character whose greatest desire was that his fame should not deprive him of his solitude. In short, this film presents Sherlock in a more rounded, human sense- rather than simply as an un-stoppable crime solving machine.
This film is not just about the negatives of loss, but also its redeeming features and the lessons it teaches.
Cut off from the outside world and fighting a losing battle against old age- McKellen’s Sherlock struggles to fully recall and record his final case, the only one he never solved. With no Doctor Watson present Sherlock’s only true friend and assistant in this endeavour, is a young boy called Roger (Milo Parker). He too is coming to terms with loss, or rather the effect it has had upon his mother, Mrs Munroe (Laura Linney). Her husband was killed in the war and she watches on anxiously as the boy without a father adopts a grandfather figure to replace him. Sherlock’s delight at his new protégé is played out as the contrast to his mother’s grief as the last thing she has in the world looks up to another.
Thankfully though this film is not just about the negatives of loss, but also its redeeming features and the lessons it teaches, of how it spurs us on to make new connections to replace those we lost, as well a as a somewhat more unpalatable truth- that from loss, there is gain.
One section of the film sees Holmes visit Japan and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima is used as an interesting metaphorical mirror that is held up to Holmes’ battle with his own past.
As Holmes recalls more of the case that sent him into his self-imposed exile, he comes to realise that the truth does not always matter quite the way he has always believed. Alongside this realisation comes an interesting development in his understanding of human relationships. Mrs Kelmot, (Laura Linney,) is the centre of this final puzzle and the vehicle through which Holmes learns these lessons and remembers the case itself- as Holmes discovers when he finally reads Watson’s depictions of his cases.
One section of the film sees Holmes visit Japan and the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima is used as an interesting metaphorical mirror that is held up to Holmes’ battle with his own past. The destruction has not prevented trees and plants from once again growing in the wasteland, the hopeful shoots that will one day bring the area back to life, as Japan passes through the crucible of defeat and subsequent occupation. Holmes too passes through his crucible and as the film ends, he no longer retreats from his past, but embraces and honours it. The journey Mr Holmes takes you on, during which Sherlock finds, understands and welcomes this acceptance of his past, is a heart-felt one in which Ian McKellen excels. Ultimately, this film is well worth your time.
By Gareth Wood