The most recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation features none other than current acting goliath Sir Ian McKellen as the man himself but is not adapted from any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works (incidentally, you can visit the grave of Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh University medicine lecturer who was the inspiration behind the character of Holmes, in the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh), rather it is based on the 2005 novel ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind’ by Mitch Cullin, and unfortunately it does show. The story has three interlinking narratives with the primary one being Holmes’ present day (1947) self, now in his 90’s living in a remote farmhouse in the country with only his bees and his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker) for company, combined with the ghosts of his final case which begin to haunt him as he attempts to write his version of events to counterbalance their much ameliorated publication by a now long since passed away Dr. Watson, along with another story he recounts regarding a recent trip to Japan where he witnessed the aftermath of Hiroshima.
Holmes is ailing in bodily health and in mind, his memory clutching at physical props to drive his faculties back to the time of the events he is trying to piece together, and he becomes close to Roger whose mental adroitness and eagerness for adventure and stories inspires him to a degree, much to the chagrin of Roger’s concerned onlooking mother. Indeed, she appears to have good cause for worry given the fragility of Holmes, whose care the boy is too oft put into through their mutual friendship, and McKellen’s depiction whilst committed as you’d expect (he handles the bees in their hive with no gloves on for example. Fuck that) has the unfortunate effect of making Holmes appear more than a little creepy at times, whether by design or accident it isn’t clear. This maternal alertness actually provides the tension through most of the first half of the film and prevents it from grinding to a halt as the other threads are delivered piecemeal with continual breaks and very little apparent point or value to them, although scenes in the atomic aftermath are striking if somewhat curtailed.
In essence it becomes an investigation of Holmes’ soul, a final and most difficult case for him to solve and there’s a lot of merit in some of the material it covers, with the other strands eventually at least partially delivering and making sense, but the primary problem is that this isn’t really Sherlock Holmes. If one were to take this and place it astride Guy Ritchie’s interpretation back in 2009 then the real detective and his investigations would fall somewhere in the middle, and there comes a point where I think audiences going to see a Sherlock Holmes film ought to reasonably expect to be given exactly that. Constant revisionist takes on something which in itself does not need to be revised can easily become detrimental to the theme. There is precious little in the way of his famed deductions in this one, and some that do crop up are iffy to say the least, including one that will have you seriously doubting that nobody noticed certain evidence before. Similar doubts exist too over major key elements of plot and philosophy but some contemplative value is to be found nonetheless, though expectations for many overtly clever reveals are unlikely to be met.
Possibly published in anticipation of the film’s release, this article is a worthy little eye opener on the world of bees, dastardly little bastards that they are – though nothing compared to the envoys of Satan that are wasps (many villages have been inadvertently scorched in my attempts to deal with said evils).