Saturday, October 24, 2015

Grappling with memory loss and an aging Mr Holmes

British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most well-regarded fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in a 1900 silent short film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled. Since then, numerous directors’ choices of Holmes’s screen characterisations ranged from Eille Norwood’s silent black–and–white short films and features to John Barrymore’s Sherlock Holmes.

The depiction of Holmes evolved over a period of time from Clive Brook’s first sound movie, The Return of Sherlock Holmes to Raymond Massey’s The Speckled Band to Robert Downey Jr as a bohemian scientist in the most recent screen adaptation, Sherlock Holmes.

This year, Sir Ian McKellen, along with director Bill Condon, have given admirers of this great detective cum forensic scientist more of what they yearn for. With multiple mystery plots, in Mr Holmes, the actor and director duo managed to captivate moviegoers with their crime drama.

Based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind (2005), the movie’s storyline is about the felony, oldness and flimsy memory, as well as a race against time – death. Set in the aftermath of World War II, it is a slow paced account which revolves around three different intense and enigmatic stories.

The movie opens with a 93-year-old retired Holmes (Ian McKellen) living in the countryside of Sussex on a picturesque farm during the 1940s. Now a solitary man, he is unable to walk without the help of a cane and his memory is diminishing with each passing day. He only has two companions in the house – a housekeeper, Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker).

Photo: IMDb

Holmes is greatly interested in bee farming, particularly collecting royal jelly, which allegedly reduces absent mindedness. He enjoys talking to Roger about life experiences as well as supporting his desires and aspirations, that are foiled by his mother’s confinement to the house. Roger’s self-assurance and intelligence remind him of his younger self.

Photo: IMDb

In one of the subplots, Holmes follows a depressed married woman named Ann (played by Hattie Morahan), through the streets of London post World War I. He has been hired by her husband, Thomas Kelmot (played by Patrick Kennedy), who suspects his wife’s involvement in some sort of illegal activity. The case compelled him to stop working in the future. Though looking back now, Holmes begins wondering what exactly about this case made him stop working.

“I chose exile for my punishment…, what could it be for?”

Photo: IMDb

In another subplot, Holmes meets a nonprofessional herbalist, Umezaki (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), who shared a family secret with him during his trip to Japan. Holmes wants to unearth the real reason behind Umezaki’s father’s permanent stay in Britain.

The anecdote sporadically oscillates between a thirty-year-old investigative case and his visit to Japan. In the present, he wants to straighten out the clandestine probing of both cases for the sake of record and aspires to transmit them into a novelette before it’s too late.

Photo: IMDb

However, the dementia and self-consciousness has given Holmes a vicious spell of writer’s block.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay portrays the aged Holmes as a more self-absorbed individual as compared to his forerunners. Regardless of his witticism and perspicacious thoughts, he knows he is nearing the end of his life and is constantly trying to keep a hold of his concentration as well as his physique.

Ian McKellen, the recipient of six Laurence Olivier Awards, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and other numerous awards, brings warmth and poise to an unusual depiction of an aging Holmes, grappling with his reminiscences. In fact, with some superfluous wrinkles and a lagging–down nose, he stylishly overshadows a screenplay with several flashbacks to assure the spectators that they are watching an elderly Holmes coping with forgetfulness.

Photo: IMDb

The Golden Globe award winner, director Bill Condon, whose work includes Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls and the Twilight series has done justice to his slow-paced rich adaptation, which takes place some years after the escapades novelised by Holmes’ associate, Dr Watson.

Condon’s work is laudable and smooth with overlapping mysteries. It also deals with issues such as personal regrets, ageing and mortality.

All things considered, Mr Holmes is a robust period drama completely affixed by McKellen’s inspiring and mature acting. It is a quieter and finer movie which communicates with its precursors an astute perception of a fading gentleman fighting to mark out reality from illusions, as he tries to pen down the concluding segment of his own life. It is a delicate personality analysis and a thoughtful character piece of Sherlock Holmes.

So, in a nutshell, Mr Holmes is a well-crafted, leisurely paced, well-acted movie with no Watson, no pipe and no deerstalker, but it has some twists and turns, lush scenery and attractive costume designs. On account of its thoroughness and solemnity, it is well suited for serious moviegoers. It is definitely worthy of a high recommendation.

I would rate it 3.5 out of five stars.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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