Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has been in retirement for decades, forced there by the traumatic events of his last case, a case he has increasing trouble remembering as senility does its damage. With Watson long gone, Holmes relies on the son (Milo Parker) of his caretaker (Laura Linney) to assist him in his daily activities and serve as a bridge to younger, healthier and more lucid days. Holmes is soon entwined in the hostile relationship between the working class mother and her clearly clever yet condescending son, and he confronts the mistakes of his past while engaging, reluctantly, in their very pedestrian domestic drama. This is Holmes adrift, vulnerable and shorn of the cock-sure bravado of his younger years.
It’s hard not to over-praise McKellen’s performance. Too much Gandolf has fixed him as caricature, but here, he deftly injects Holmes’s withering intellect and emotional shortcomings with a plaintive frailty. Director Bill Condon has experience with McKellen – their work in Gods and Monsters was similarly touching, restrained and intelligent and also garnered McKellen a Best Actor nod. The film is also blessed by a strong turn by Parker. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, as in life, you warm to a child who is genuine as opposed to precocious, natural instead of stagey. Parker is just right.
Occasionally, the movie is a little dragging, but this is still one of my favorite films this year.