Mr Holmes has to have some of the most confusing advertising behind it that I've seen in a while. Apparently that's a theme this month. When I first heard of the film I got the impression that the focus was less on Holmesian mystery and detective work, and more on the awful reality of dementia. Skip forward a year and we spot it on Prime, where all the trailers make it look more like a 'passing of the torch' story with an element of 'last hurrah' but nothing really deep or depressing. Well, if you're wondering, the reality is closer to my initial understanding than any of the UK trailers portray.
As a Holmesian detective thriller, Mr Holmes will probably leave you disappointed, although the actual 'mystery' at the core of the story is still well woven and genuinely interesting. I am ashamed to say I have no idea if the book referenced is, in fact, an actual entry in the Sherlock Holmes back catalogue, but if it is I can definitely see some serious fans feeling that it was a weak one. If that is the case, having Holmes retell the story and do so accurately, including the fact that his own intellectually based, cold logic ultimately failed to grasp the nuances of human emotions and caused a woman to take her own life, is a very clever twist. With liberal sprinklings of the supernatural, some wonderful observational witticisms and very clever twists on the standard tropes (such as 221B being across the road so as to give them some privacy), the resultant story, as told by Holmes, feels very 'real' and fits the wider universe much better than most modern adaptations or alterations. You can tell the plot was written by fans of Doyle's original work, first and foremost.
Where the film truly shines though is in the portrayal of Holmes as a real person. It's great fun seeing him present his own annoyances with his 'fictionalised' self, especially in regards to the "pantomime" like reproduction he watches at the cinema. He's never bitter, but instead is characteristically logical, even when discussing his deliberate subversion's of the fiction, foregoing the deerstalker and pipe which have become 'props' to his own existence. It's all wonderful, clever stuff that makes the film truly enjoyable for any fan of the detective.
Greater still, however, is the central conceit that even a brain as capable as that of Sherlock Holmes must eventually lose the battle with senility. The scripting surrounding his slow descent towards dementia is expertly crafted, but it is Ian McKellen's performance that ties it all together into a truly riveting experience. As someone who has seen relatives succumb to these terrible diseases, there were moments that almost bit too close to the core, but the film is all the greater for doing so without feeling forced or painful.
Ultimately, Mr Holmes is not a film about Sherlock Holmes; it is a film about people. Everyday people, their interactions, their emotions and their desires. The inclusion of Holmes himself is crucial, as it is only when set against a character so well known for his utter disregard for these elements of life that they can truly be highlighted so completely. The final few scenes, in which Holmes finally begins to understand that utter devotion to logic has not been, perhaps, the most enlightening of paths after all, are some of the most powerful and nuanced circumstances I've seen the character cast into. The end result is spellbinding. Combined with an excellent supporting cast, some clever direction and elegant set/music design and the outcome is a wonderful, meaningful film.