Saturday, 20 June 2015


Bill Condon's Mr. Holmes is built around a character, with a lead performance built around it too. Ian McKellen's incarnation of Sherlock Holmes at once anchors and assists its film, and also transcends it. Here is a performer so attuned to his role, its purpose and its peculiarities, and it's a terrific satisfaction to watch McKellen embody this classic character, in a revised form that offers the actor an opportunity to embellish and enrich. He reflects his ageing, forgetful Holmes' necessary introspection in work that searches deep within a mind to be expressed through a body. If what Ian McKellen accomplishes in Mr. Holmes is wholly traditional, it's also wholly appropriate, and never less than wholly convincing - the same is true for the film, which deals in narrative conventions and platitudes that are made new again by the earnestness with which Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation approaches them. A mystery plot needs little artistic assistance to succeed, let alone several at once, but much as Mr. Holmes' story alone is of sufficient strength to carry it, the principal pleasure in Condon's film is derived from the old-fashioned verisimilitude that the director unpretentiously applies to it. Its modest rural English settings in fact encourage the film's casual self-reflexion, succinctly summing its characters up in an opening credits sequence of the kind of mildly pretty scenery that doesn't accent and inform its characters' individual psyches, so much as suggests their uniquely British sense of self-sustenance and solemnity, traits which make their actions, no matter how extreme, entirely explicable in their context. That modesty never overcomes the film, but it never quite allows anything about the film to overcome the viewer - it's solid but stilted, even if it never intended to be anything greater than it is. Yet Ian McKellen gives a masterclass in producing masterful acting, without the need to overcome the project.