Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, A Slight Trick Of The Mind, explored a unique idea—imagine the great British detective Sherlock Holmes in his twilight years grappling with an unresolved case as his memory fades slowly. Director Bill Condon has adapted the novel to film and cast the indomitable Sir Ian McKellen as the famed Sherlock Holmes.
The screenplay flits from 1947 to around 30 years in the past. In 1947, a 93-year-old Holmes is leading a life in exile on his farm by the sea, absorbed in his apiary, with just the company of his disgruntled housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker).
Desperate to fend off fading memory and failing body, Holmes has just returned from Japan, where he went in search of a rare plant believed to have healing properties. On his return, Holmes revisits an old case, recorded and embellished by his former companion Dr Watson, and commits to re-recording the true version of things. To do so, the script takes us back 30 years when Holmes took on the case, which would prove to be his last.
While this Sherlock Holmes relies on memory rather than the elementary powers of deduction to recast the case, it also proves to be a journey where he comes to terms with his own loneliness and mortality. Roger becomes his unlikely apprentice and friend. Parker is delightful as the slightly precocious, curious boy seeking a male role model. American actor Linney is an odd casting choice as the mother, muddling through a southern English accent.
McKellen impresses with his performance, both as the younger (around 60 years old) and older Sherlock Holmes, leading a life on a country estate.
As a 93-year old, McKellen grimaces in disapproval ever so slightly and plays crotchety with flair. As the “younger" Holmes, he is upright, energetic and arrogant, showing the brilliance that made Holmes the legend he was. Suspense and sleuthing are a backstory to this elegant tale of regret, rectification and humility.