Sherlock Holmes is enjoying a bit of a revival these days. In the British television series Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman give a modern-day spin to the fictitious duo adding smart phones and texting to the tools of their investigative trade. This Sherlock is cocky and his Watson is timid.
Director Bill Condon stays in the past with his Sherlock, but looks at his life at the end of his days. Set in 1947, an aging Sherlock Holmes returns from a journey to Japan, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Mr. Holmes (Ian McKellen) faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the unsolved case that forced him into retirement. Unluckily, he can neither remember the case nor why he could never return to his passion of investigation.
I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between Mr. Holmes and Ian McKellen. Both have lived lives that have been told through the voice of someone else. John Watson took the basis of their cases together and created a mythical Sherlock Holmes finely crafting a deer cap wearing, pipe smoking, intensely inquisitive and wildly successful detective. By not participating in the storytelling, Mr. Holmes allowed his character to become so fictionalized, he spent much of his later years dispelling the myths and struggling to remember the true facts of each case. Similarly, Ian McKellen was never ashamed of being gay and was quite open with close friends and fellow actors. But by not owning his narrative and sexuality, many fans and admirers created the mystique of the dashing (and heterosexual) leading man. It wasn’t until 1988, when he publicly came out on BBC Radio that McKellen learned the power being authentic. Ten years later on the 29th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, he commented, “I have many regrets about not having come out earlier, but one of them might be that I didn’t engage myself in the politicking.”
Mr. Holmes is a beautiful journey through memories and legacies with gentle reminders along the way to hold true to your own.
Mr. Holmes opens Friday, July 17 with wide release beginning July 23.