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Film / Mr. Holmes

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Mr. Holmes is a 2015 drama/mystery film directed by Bill Condon and starring Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes. It is based on Mitch Cullin's novel A Slight Trick of the Mind.

In post-WWII England, the 93-year-old Holmes lives in retirement, tending to his bees and generally wishing to be left alone. It becomes increasingly clear, however, that his once-brilliant mind has begun to fail him. Realizing this, Holmes becomes newly determined to solve one last mystery: recalling the details of the case that drove him into retirement 35 years earlier.

Laura Linney and Milo Harris co-star as Holmes's housekeeper Mrs. Munro and her son Roger, respectively. The film has been praised for its old-fashioned take on the character, and for McKellen's brilliant performance in the title role. The film was released in the UK on June 19, 2015 and in the US on July 17, 2015.

This film provides examples of the following:

  • Adaptation Name Change: From Keller to Kelmot.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Mr. Holmes is based on the book A Slight Trick of the Mind.
  • Anachronic Order: The film is set in the years following WWII, but contains flashbacks to a recent trip to Japan by Holmes, as well as 35 years earlier, to a case which Holmes was unable to solve.
  • Animal Motifs: Bees and wasps. Bees are associated with benevolence and innocence (and near the end, Roger compares their three-person unit to a hive). Wasps are malicious and deadly.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Roger is fascinated with Holmes' "thing where he tells who you are and where you've been just by looking at you" and pesters him to do it to Mrs. Munro at one point. Holmes finally gives in and correctly states that she's taken the job at the hotel in Portsmouth, causing a rift between mother and son.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mr. Kelmot appears to be a genuinely concerned husband at first, but as the case progresses it becomes clear that he has little empathy for his wife's sorrow and he's annoyed more than concerned about the change in their married life. (Which isn't to say he has no feeling when she commits suicide, but if he had mustered up a bit more empathy she might not have decided that walking into a train was a better option than returning to him.)
  • Bittersweet Ending: He solves his last case and finds a surrogate family of sorts so it isn't the Tear Jerker that it could have been, but we're still looking at the imminent death of one of the most brilliant and cunning men of his generation, and the realization that if he does manage to live a couple more years, he is fast succumbing to dementia and will become but a shadow of his former self. It's not about Holmes getting better, it's about finding peace in the little time he has left. The spots in the diary, the frantic search for hope with natural remedies and the moment where he falls out of bed and cries for help are played brilliantly by McKellen and underscore just how tragic growing old really is. Still, it is better than the outright downer ending of the book, where Roger dies, Mrs. Munro in all likeliness will leave Holmes alone once again and Sherlock Holmes is forced to acknowledge that the precious logic he has devoted his entire life to is unable to fully investigate the depth of the human soul and is not a key to personal happiness. And, of course, he is going to die soon.
  • Break the Haughty: In the past, the younger Holmes is perfectly certain of his brilliance. His last case utterly breaks him and causes him to go into self imposed exile.
  • Casting Gag:
    • At one point, Holmes goes to see a movie based on the main case of the film, in the style of the old Basil Rathbone films made by 20th Century Fox. The on-screen Sherlock is played by Nicholas Rowe, who played the character in Young Sherlock Holmes.
    • When a police detective visits near the end of the film it is Phil Davies, who played the antagonist in the first episode of Sherlock.
  • Character Development: Holmes' last case changes him dramatically, stripping away much of the old confidence and swagger.
  • Chekhov's Gun: During a checkup early in the film, Holmes' doctor gives him a diary and tells him to mark a day's page every time he forgets something. When the doctor returns later on, he flips through the diary and sees a steadily increasing number of marks on the pages — an indication that Holmes' use of prickly ash isn't helping his memory at all.
  • Cool Old Guy: Come on, it's Sherlock Holmes.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Tamiki Umezaki's father was an Anglophile who claimed he'd met Mr. Holmes in Britain and couldn't return to Japan for mysterious reasons related to that. He sent his son a copy of A Study in Scarlet and never made contact again, which gave Tamiki a Holmes fixation.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Holmes' doctor, just a bit. Madame Schirmer as well.
    Schirmer: Oswald my dear, are you this man's wife?
    Boy on armonica: No.
    Schirmer: You could be in disguise.
  • Deconstruction: Both the book and the movie are one of the myth of Sherlock Holmes’s asociality and reclusiveness. As he nears the end of his life, the detective starts to increasingly feel the need for human contact. He then becomes a putative father for Roger, a war orphan, and goes even so far as to tell to his Japanese contact, Tamiki Umezaki, a blatant lie about his father’s mysterious disappearance in order to provide him with some closure about a painful episode of his life. The book is much more radical, however: after Roger’s death, Holmes is forced to acknowledge that he is going to die alone and that his life has basically been a failure, as his logic and rationality were unable to penetrate the mystery of life and the depths of the human mind.
  • Driven to Suicide: Holmes' refusal of Ann Kelmot's request to go with him so that they could be 'alone together', so that she could have someone who understood her, resulted in this and broke Holmes entirely.
  • Exact Words: As Holmes is teaching Roger how to work with bees, Roger asks him if he has ever been bit. Holmes somewhat huffily explains that bees don't bite, they sting, and adds that he has been stung over 7,800 times. Immediately afterward, Mrs. Munro nervously asks out of her concern at Roger's proximity to the bees, "Have you ever been bit?" Holmes just smiles and equably replies, "No, I have never been bit."
  • The Faceless: Watson is either shown from the back or from the neck down.
  • Fish out of Water: Holmes mentions feeling that he's outlived his time, before eventually changing his mind.
  • The Fog of Ages: The film revolves around Holmes' failing memory and his struggle to recall the details of his last case before he dies.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Holmes reflects that Ann Kelmot's emptying of the Arsenic bottle, accidentally killing the innocent bee, is what Watson would call foreshadowing for what happened next - his own accidental role in Ann Kelmot's suicide.
    • The opening of the film, in which Holmes warns a boy that he's about to antagonize a wasp, not a bee, foreshadows Roger's near-fatal mishap towards the end.
  • Frameup:
    • Ann Kelmot deliberately takes a series of actions that make it look as though she's planning to murder her husband. She forges cheques in his name, buys arsenic, inspects his will, and hands off the money to a rough man at a train station where she's checked which train is the express. She knows full well that Holmes is following her, but Holmes has himself realized that the rough man is a stonemason, the money is to buy headstones for her unborn children, and the arsenic is for herself.
    • Mrs. Munro inadvertently does this to Holmes' bees. Finding Roger lying unconscious near the apiary from multiple stings, she blames the bees and is about to burn the apiary when Holmes stops her. He realizes that Roger had found a nest of wasps and was trying to drown them in order to protect the bees, but the wasps swarmed on him. Holmes and Mrs. Munro burn the nest instead.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Mrs. Munro grows jealous of the bond Holmes develops with Roger which is partly why she wants to leave his service if possible.
  • Heroic BSoD: After Ann Kelmot's suicide, it is revealed that Holmes fell into this and it required Watson to bring him back from the brink.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Tourists flock to 221B Baker Street to get a look at the home of the famous Sherlock Holmes. Holmes lived across the street in relative peace. A friendly porter at 221B sends clients to Holmes when the need arises.
  • Hired Help as Family: Holmes forms a surrogate family with his housekeeper and her son.
  • I Should Have Been Better: Holmes alludes to this when he calls out Roger for being nasty to his mother, telling him to apologise at once or he would regret it for the rest of his life. Roger says that everyone says that and Holmes tells him that it's true and knows from personal experience.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight in the film with Roger, but averted in the novel.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Reconstructed. Holmes says he's never liked or really understood his own emotions or those of people around him, preferring logic. He also knows full well this is why he's spent nine decades of his life alone, though it really only hits him during his last case when his obsession with logic cost the life of Ann Kelmot. This is the main source of his Character Development, trying to balance sensitivity around other people.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Holmes and Roger.
  • Inverse Law of Fertility: Ann Kelmot's inability to carry pregnancies to term drives her section of the plot.
  • Just Train Wrong: The film is set in Sussex in 1947, but in the opening with Holmes travelling home by train, the locomotive and carriages are in 1960s British Railways livery, the locomotive is an ex-LMS Jubilee class 4-6-0, which did not run south of the Thames, and the carriages are British Railways Mark One stock not introduced until 1951.
  • Large Ham: Holmes portrayal in the movie adaptation of his case.
    "Every plot twist came with the twirl of a moustache and ended in an exclamation mark."
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When writing his letter to Umezaki, Holmes mentions that his father served the British Empire "from Malaya to the Arabian Peninsula" based on some books sitting in front of him in the desk.
  • Lonely Together: Ann Kelmot makes this offer to Holmes. Later Holmes makes the same offer to Mrs Munro.
  • Lying to Protect Your Feelings: Played with. Holmes bluntly informs Umezaki that he'd never met Umezaki's father, and that the supposed meeting with Holmes was just an excuse to abandon his wife and son. After realizing why Watson fictionalized the Kelmot case, Holmes writes Umezaki near the end of the film and claims that he does remember his father and that he was a courageous British agent after all, just as Umezaki wanted to believe his whole life.
  • Manly Tears: Holmes breaks down in tears when Mrs. Munro accuses him of only caring for his bees, which makes her pause and realize that he really is utterly distraught.
  • Meta Fiction: Holmes spends the movie reflecting on the differences between his final case as told by Watson (your typical schlocky detective flick) and how it actually happened (two people trying to grapple with their own loneliness and mortality). This is the same subversion used in the film as a whole.
  • My Card: Mrs Kelmot finds Holmes card while doing her husband's laundry, so knows Holmes has been hired to follow her.
  • My Greatest Failure: For Holmes, the Kelmot case. His inability to fully grasp Mrs. Kelmot's emotional turmoil and the resulting consequences drove him to abandon his work; the movie depicts his attempt to set things right before his failing memory makes it impossible.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Holmes to Watson, apparently. Holmes was angry with Watson over his using the Kelmot case as book material; they were estranged afterward and Watson died with Holmes not having an opportunity to see him before then.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Mrs. Munro at first doesn't enjoy working for Holmes and believes he should be in a professional care home instead.
  • Note to Self: Holmes sometimes writes little reminders on his shirt sleeve cuff, such as Umezaki's name, so he can discreetly jog his memory.
  • Posthumous Character: Watson, who was "gone" three years after the Kelmot case.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: At the end of the film, Roger is repeatedly stung by wasps and is unresponsive for several days. He does get better, though.
  • Sherlock Scan: While he doesn't always 'do the thing' any more, he can still do it, to devastating effect.
  • Shout-Out: After leaving the music teacher, Ann Kelmot stops at a shop clearly labeled "Ambrose Chappell, Taxedermy". Apparently, somebody on the set crew liked The Man Who Knew Too Much.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: While Holmes doesn't immediately come off as this, he still doesn't always get human nature.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Roger, who dies from the wasp stings in the novel.
  • Spiritual Successor: Many have pointed out the thematic similarities between this film and Gods and Monsters, the previous collaboration between Bill Condon and Ian McKellen.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Holmes, in his retirement, is a patient, gentle man who enjoys the company of Roger in a way that he might not previously have done.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The grey glove. It was actually kept by Watson, who hid it in his writing desk. The desk itself is one for Holmes; he later sits there to write to Umezaki about his father's fictionalized national service.
  • A True Story in My Universe: In this film, many of the Holmesian trademarks (the Deerstalker cap, pipe, and even 221B Baker Street) were dramatic flourishes added by Watson and his illustrators in order to make the stories sell better. Indeed, a copy of A Study in Scarlet is seen, with John H Watson as the author.
  • Two-Faced: While in Japan, Holmes is shocked by the sight of a beautiful woman with burn scars on one side of her face. We then pan to the railway station sign to show he's just arrived in Hiroshima.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: The main crux of the plot, but done in an odd way. It was solved decades ago, but Holmes can't remember how, only that it didn't really happen the way Watson wrote it up and that it shook him badly enough to send him into retirement.
  • Virtuous Bees: Holmes believes that bees are fundamentally good, since they pollinate and make honey. Wasps, by contrast, he sees as wicked and unpleasant insects.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Holmes sharply calls out Roger for taking out his fears of becoming little more than a menial labourer and frustrations at the prospect of such on his mother and intentionally hurting her when she only wanted the best for him, making him apologise.
    • Mrs. Munro really gives it to Holmes when Roger is nearly stung to death by wasps and he didn't even have the decency to tell what happened, he just called the ambulance without a word to her. Holmes feebly tells her that he thought it wouldn't make a difference.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: Watson fictionalizes the Kelmot case in an attempt to comfort Mr. Kelmot and Holmes. Holmes is deeply offended, however, and felt that Watson had become unable to distinguish himself from the character Holmes.
  • Wicked Wasps: Holmes opines that bees are fundamentally good because they pollinate and create honey, which makes the wasps — as their natural enemy — bad. This is borne out at the end of the film when his young friend Roger is stung by a swarm of wasps and has an allergic reaction that nearly kills him in the movie, and does kill him in the novel.
  • Your Costume Needs Work: Nobody believes Holmes is Holmes because he doesn't wear his iconic outfit mistakenly attributed to him by public perception. While Holmes protests that he never wore a deerstalker, he did specifically avoid smoking pipes because it would seem gratuitous.