Sir Ian McKellen’s ‘Mr. Holmes’ Offers A Quieter, More Reflective Sherlock

Sir Ian McKellen’s latest film, Mr. Holmes, offers a take on the revered detective that most would not consider. Here, Holmes is a 93-years-old beekeeper and struggles to access the steel trap memory that had made him such a formidable sleuth. The film begins with Holmes in Japan trying to find an elixir that will give him back his memory.

Mr. Holmes, directed by Bill Condon, premieres today at the Berlin Film Festival. McKellen told Vanessa Thorpe of the Guardian that he relates to this version of Holmes, who, in his old age, is forced to reckon with the ever present effect of death.

“‘Mr. Holmes’ really is as much about being old as it is about the crime. I do relate to the ease with which Sherlock talks about death. That ease is something that has come to me and to a lot of my friends. Death is suddenly ever-present, even though we ignore it when we are young. For Sherlock, in this story, it is a race against time, and it is not quite like that for me. I don’t intend to retire. I will go on working on and off. I am happily going on with my life.”

The film is based on Mitch Cullen’s A Slight Trick of the Mind and follows Holmes as he tries to remember how he solved a crime even as dementia threatens to further rob him of his most precious element: his mind. McKellen is confident that, though the take on Holmes is a variant, the ardent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aficionados should find nothing objectionable, reminding the audience that the iconic depiction most hold of Holmes is, in effect, an exaggeration of John Watson’s.

The beekeeping element was almost a deal breaker for McKellen, who was drawn to the manner in which the story deals with the betrayal of memory. McKellen joked to Alex Ritman of the Hollywood Reporter that, following a bee training course, McKellen was finally able to accomplish something that had thus far eluded him in his illustrious career: he did his own stunts.

“I am not proud to say I worked with the bees. I did my own stunts on this occasion. Those were my hands lifting the frames with the bees on them. I wasn’t wearing gloves, which is a dangerous thing to do. But I didn’t get stung, nor did anything else.

“No bees were harmed in the making of this movie.”