There can be few fictional characters who have enjoyed as many interpretations as Sherlock Holmes – we’ve already seen him as a young man, so it was perhaps inevitable that somebody would take him in tother direction. Here, he’s played by Ian McKellan as a 93 year old, convincingly aged in state-of-the-art latex. It’s 1947 and he’s long retired to a village in Sussex, where he’s looked after by housekeeper, Mrs Munro (Laura Linney making a decent fist of an English accent). Her young son, Roger (Milo Parker) clearly idolises the old man and has a bit of an interest in detection himself. Directed by Bill Condon, the film is adapted from the short story A Short Trick of the Mind and has Holmes struggling with the onset of dementia, whilst desperately trying to piece together and write about the particulars of his last case, the one that made him retire from the detection game. In this parallel universe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never existed. The Holmes stories really were written by Dr Watson (who we only glimpse in flashback) and Holmes is clearly a lost soul without his old partner to back him up.
This is a slight though pleasing story, dominated by a perfectly nuanced performance from McKellan (though it has to be said, there’s more than a passing resembance to his turn as James Whale in Gods and Monsters, which Condon also directed.) He’s ably supported by the other members of the cast, particularly young Milo Parker and by Hattie Morahan as the young woman who’s tragic story causes Holmes to ditch sleuthing and take up beekeeping instead. If the tale occasionally strays into the realms of sentimentality, it’s of no great consequence; this is diverting enough but the earth doesn’t move and it makes you think that in the end, Holmes tales are a bit like buses – there’ll be another one along soon.