Holmes dismisses fiction as much as he obsesses over the "facts of the case," but he struggles with senility (perhaps Alzheimer's) and can't remember why such a case caused him to leave the profession - something tragic must have happened. Adapted from Mitch Cullin's "A Slight Trick of the Mind", this mystery is more inside Holmes' own memory, and that is a fault. The film loses the focus on McKellen's performance when we leave to overextended flashbacks featuring Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) and his mysterious wife Ann (Hattie Morahan). Holmes is engaged to find out why Ann, who recently suffered miscarriages, talks to her unborn children. And why does she obsess over the glass harpsichord, linked with the dark arts? McKellen, delivering his inimitable drawl, is inevitably the star attraction here. He doesn't have to speak to have his presence felt, he can frown and find audiences laughing, and Jeffrey Hatcher's script sparkles in his hands. It's when the film insists on returning not just to the Kelmots, but also a superfluous sequence in Hiroshima where Holmes searches out a flower to aid his memory, that the film sags. McKellen is best upholstered by his relationship with the young Roger - an excellent Parker - which brings a rather melancholy closure in Mr. Holmes near the end of his life.
This review was originally published as part of our coverage of the 65th Berlin Film Festival in February 2015.
Ed Frankl | @Ed_Frankl