In a poll of things we really don’t need to see at the cinema, another 'Sherlock Holmes’ is pretty high on the list. Benedict Cumberbatch’s on-the-spectrum TV Holmes and kid-in-a-sweet-factory Robert Downey Jr have got it all sewn up.
But make an exception for Ian McKellen, who plays the supersleuth as a cantankerous 93-year-old living by the seaside in Kent and keeping bees in this elegant, stately (yes slow) drama. It’s 1947, and Holmes’s famous intellect is failing. Before he loses his marbles completely he wants to uncover the details of the case that forced him into retirement 30 years ago. Holmes knows that Watson’s account only tells half the facts, but can’t for the life of him remember the rest. All he knows is that it involves a man who arrives at Baker Street to ask him to investigate his wife’s mysterious behaviour.
McKellen plays it beautifully, so graceful he barely looks like he’s trying. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Is he too twinkly a poppet for the arrogant Holmes? Possibly, but who knows what 30 years of beekeeping will do to a man. And he may well start a men’s fashion trend with his wardrobe here, all collarless white shirts and herringbone knitted waistcoats – ‘Sherlock chic’?
Just don’t go expecting a cracking whodunnit. This is more of a character study, and flashbacks to the 1919 case are only semi-successful. Sometimes, ‘Mr Holmes’ feels as woolly as the detective’s waistcoats.