Director Bill Condon’s “Mr. Holmes” is a powerful film that treats the legendary screen character in a unique way. We’ve seen Sherlock played with style over the years by great actors like Basil Rathbone, Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, but imagine him being played as an elderly man facing the bottom of life’s bell curve. Think of James Bond in an assisted living center or Superman living in a retirement community and tell me that you are not intrigued.
The accomplished Ian McKellen, in a performance that has to be recognized at Oscar time, plays a reclusive 92-year-old Sherlock Holmes living in seclusion near the sea in England. Fighting oncoming senility, McKellen’s Holmes tries to maintain his dignity while penning an account of his last case that he is fighting to remember.
Holmes’ residence is maintained by a beleaguered caretaker who is trying to raise a young son while growing increasingly irritated with Holmes’ irascibility. The talented Laura Linney is captivating, and she again finds a way to bring glamour to a working-class woman as demonstrated throughout a wonderful career.
Milo Parker plays Roger, Linney’s 12-year-old son who becomes very attached to Holmes. He enjoys helping Holmes attempt to recount his past, and the two of them are a joy to watch as they tend Holmes’ bee colony that is maintained on the property. He is likely to charm you as quickly as he did our aging sleuth.
In trying to reflect on his past, McKellen allows you to see into the heart and soul of a famous man long past his prime. Trying to come to grips with the fact that he has always lived alone, the discovery of the shocking conclusion of his last assignment, which is dramatically relived through flashbacks, leaves him emotionally overwhelmed. Let me just say that this moment brought tears to the eyes of most of those in the theater.
McKellen’s performance transcends the magic he displayed as Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s colossal films, “The Lord of the Rings” (2001-2003) and “The Hobbit” trilogies (2012-2014). Having spent much of his career in those blockbusters, not to mention playing Magneto in the “X-Men” films, his performance here as Holmes is an experience to treasure.
“Testament of Youth”
Based on the autobiography of Vera Brittain, “Testament of Youth” is a stunning, anti-war film that should have meaning to this very day. You see firsthand Brittain’s experience as a young British girl engulfed by the savage consequences of World War I, and the film demonstrates that every war leaves families mourning the loss of a loved one.
The extraordinarily talented Alicia Vikander plays Brittain, and you watch her fighting social tradition as she seeks to be admitted into Oxford in 1914. In the process, she watches as her brother, Edward (Taron Egerton); a close friend, Victor Richardson (Colin Morgan); and the love of her young life, Roland Leighton (Kit Harington), enlist in the British Army. The boys all feel that it is the patriotic thing to do. Why wait when the war is expected to be over in five months?
Vikander gives a heartbreaking performance as the young Vera, and she builds on her superb performance earlier this year as the partial robot in the underrated “Ex Machina.” Here, she soon regrets convincing a reluctant father to consent to her brother’s desire to go off to war.
The profound tragedy of that first World War soon becomes evident, as the newspapers are filled daily with the names of dead young British boys. No one could possibly comprehend that close to 10 million young men were to die in that military holocaust, and Vera decides to become a nurse in France in order to make some type of contribution.
This is a film where the turmoil embracing the young people in Europe escalates beyond imagination. Vera’s experience in the large, outdoor grounds used as temporary hospitals in France resembles that classic scene in Atlanta as experienced by Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” (1939).
In the early months of the war, Vera is occasionally able to see her brother while becoming engaged to her increasingly tormented lover. As she finally is forced to face death on a personal level, she has to decide whether life is again worth living.
After an armistice is finally declared in 1918, she became a vocal opponent of war on all levels. She was wise enough to condemn Britain’s attempt to blame Germany, noting that they had as many mothers crying over dead sons as was happening in her homeland.
This is not an emotionally easy movie to watch, which simply reaffirms why it should be seen. Vera’s eloquent argument that alternatives exist to war should resonate with us in the 21st century, as all we really need to look at are the fruitless consequences of Vietnam and Iraq. Put another way, why not back President Obama’s attempt to establish a meaningful relationship with Iran as opposed to threatening to bomb them into the Stone Age?
Nearly an entire generation of young men was wiped out during WWI. Shouldn’t we exhaust all possible options before sending the next generation of working-class Americans to die in battle for their country while the wealthy wave battle flags at home?•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.