I saw Mr Holmes on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed it. While there were definite differences between it and the original novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, I think the film manages to convey the essence of the novel and touch on its most important themes. In fact, I prefer the way the Ann Kelmot (Ann Keller in the novel) case is handled in the film. I wasn't entirely satisfied with its original treatment in the novel as I found certain aspects of the story rather vague. In the film, the characters' motivations are more clear and it's obvious that the Ann Kelmot case is Holmes's last case and the reason for his retirement. Saying that, the film's chronology diverges from canon and the Ann Kelmot case is pushed from 1902 to 1918 -- no doubt by necessity as Ian McKellen, wonderful as he is, doesn't really pass as a man in his late forties, the age Holmes would have been in 1902 -- and Holmes's retirement is delayed, occurring in the post First World War era rather than 1903. Even if you ignore canon, there is another chronological discrepancy. I may have misheard the line at the time, but I'm sure Holmes tells Roger that he's been retired for 35 years. My math skills may be deplorable, but even I know that doesn't add up when both the novel and film take place in 1947. The math doesn't even work with the original retirement date. However, the change in chronology has little or no effect on the events of the film. We're still dealing with the aftermath of World War II and a world Holmes has trouble recognizing at times. This is most apparent when Holmes visits Hiroshima and catches sight of a girl with terrible scars on her face. Going into the film, I wasn't sure how much of the Japan storyline (if any) would be kept from A Slight Trick of the Mind, but, happily, the sceenwriters retained the most important aspects of those sections of the novel.
Both the novel and film deal with how memory functions and the way fiction can become more powerful than fact. Because of Watson's stories, people expect Sherlock Holmes to look and act a certain way and can be disappointed when the real man doesn't match the image in their imaginations. Then there's Holmes himself. He has reached the age of 93 and his mind has started to fail him. He is finding it a challenge to remember moments from the past and present and struggles to write his own story when trying to recount the Ann Kelmot case. At one point, Holmes, despite years of disparaging Watson's stories, creates a fiction of his own to soothe a man who is haunted by an event from his past. I think Holmes's failing memory is handled exceptionally well in the film and the additions to the script enhance the story.
Surprisingly, I haven't mentioned the cast, which is excellent. I knew Ian McKellen would be brilliant, but I was amazed by his complete transformation into a 93-year-old man -- a transformation that went beyond prosthetics. McKellen has the voice, mannerisms and the sheer frailty of an extremely old man. I found myself watching McKellen's eyes throughout the film. One moment, they would be sharp and intelligent and then, an instant later, confused and almost vacant. I was also very impressed by Laura Linney's portrayal of Mrs. Munro, Holmes's housekeeper, a character who is quite pivotal in the novel and equally important in the film. Throughout most of Mr Holmes, we see Mrs. Munro observing the bond that is developing between Holmes and Roger, fearful that she'll lose her son to Holmes and his world of cold logic and beekeeping. The widening gulf between mother and son is more sharply contrasted in the film with Roger throwing his mother's lack of education in her face in one scene. Linney provides a wide range of emotions -- from the pain Mrs. Munro experiences after Roger's rejection to intense grief in the face of possible tragedy. I love Milo Parker, the young actor who plays Roger. He completely matches the Roger from the novel with his big blue eyes, highly inquisitive nature and eagerness to please Holmes. Parker is utterly charming as Roger and, from what I've read, he disarmed Ian McKellen as thoroughly as Roger disarmed Sherlock Holmes. The nature of Holmes's relationship with Roger changes a bit in the film, but, once again, I found myself preferring it to the version found in the novel. In the film, Holmes confides more in Roger and they discuss the Ann Kelmot case openly. In the novel, Holmes never even discovers that Roger has been sneaking into his study to pore over the manuscript.
While reading the novel ahead of time may enrich the viewing experience, you don't need to read A Slight Trick of the Mind to watch Mr Holmes. You don't even need to be a Sherlock Holmes fan to appreciate the film because it touches on themes everyone can relate to and provides insight into the biggest mystery of all: life itself.
Crossposted at http://rusty-armour.dreamwidth.org/13874