Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic character that the role is a difficult challenge to take on. Add variables like retirement, extreme old age, and the onset of dementia, and the detective’s dry wit and immeasurable powers of observation become even harder to get across. However, Sir Ian McKellen manages to embody the character; simultaneously capturing his youthful abilities while keeping things in perspective. Mr. Holmes provides a glimpse into the future of a character that the world has come to recognize as the definitive sleuth.
It’s 1947 and Sherlock Holmes, now in his mind 90’s, is living a quiet life having retired from Baker Street after a final devastating case. His old partner Watson, who has since passed away, wrote of his adventures with Sherlock and despite his personal experience embellished the tales to a great extent. As a result, Holmes begins to try desperately to fend off his increasing memory loss long enough to recall the true story of his last case so he can remember why it was he left his beloved profession behind. Flashbacks to 1912 provide glimpses into the reality of that case in which Holmes was hired by a husband to find out why his wife had changed so much since her second miscarriage. These brief snapshots put the viewer in the old man’s shoes as he frustratingly attempts to piece together the story. In the present, Holmes befriends his housekeeper’s son Roger and the two form an unlikely bond as Roger’s curiosity intrigues Sherlock. Roger’s inquisitive nature helps him start to remember the forgotten case as things slowly become clearer.
The film was brilliantly emotional and just complex enough to provide an air of mystery. This is a Sherlock Holmes story isn’t it! Holmes’ relationship with Roger provides a lovely end to the detectives life and presents a perspective he’d often not considered: that love and the personal relationship we form are the most important element of a well lived life and are quite literally ALL that matter as we near the end. As a result, Sherlock is humbled in his twilight hours and is able to reflect on not only his mysterious final case, but his life in its entirety. After struggling for years with regret and guilt, the man is finally able to come to terms with his life and embrace however much of it is left with excitement and hope.