Ian McKellen stars as the elderly Sherlock Holmes. He is retired to the Dorset coast and spends most of his time tending to his bees. His main problem these days is his failing memoir. Which is a source of some concern for him as his intellect and mental abilities defined who he was. He decides to write-up his last case in order to attempt to spark some memories. Through this set up the drama moves back and forth between the present of the story and two periods in the past, these being the case itself and the search for an alternative medicine cure to his illness which takes him to post war Japan.
For a film with three distinct story lines it feels a little light in content. I can only presume that the adaptation from the novel cut out a lot of the story leaving only the core elements of each part. A bit more exposition would not have gone amiss even if it increased the run time of the film. That would have allowed The film to get into its rhythm a lot quicker and make it feel less disjointed.
Ian McKellen is called upon to give two performances. The first as the fully functional master detective at age 60. The second as the more feeble-minded man thirty years later. He does this by treating them as two separate men. The younger man is quick-witted, charming and well-groomed. The perfect image of a gentleman. The older man is more belligerent, slower to respond and less concerned with his appearance, only occasionally showing flashes of the fierce intellect that is now locked away. The portrayal is subtle and sympathetic and shows once again what a talent Ian McKellen is and has been for a long time.
What the film does not do is to inject any suspense into the proceedings. The stories are not engaging enough to enable it feel like a proper Sherlock Holmes mystery. In a way it isn’t a Holmes story at all as the main thrust of the film is that while suffering from a degenerative mental illness the essence of a person can be readily lost.
Apart from the aspect of suspense in the film is quite engaging, some parts more than others. As an overall picture is built up in the last third, the elements that came before neatly add up to provide a satisfying conclusion to the film.
Overall, a fine performance from Ian McKellen saves what could have been a so-so drama.