I know that it might seem that my dislike of Enola Holmes was mostly because of how much a fan I am of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary creation. That I’m some sort of traditionalist who can’t see the character in any other way than a Victorian gent. But that’s not true. I’m always willing to give it a chance. After all, we’ve seen enough of the same old adaptation over the years. And I know that I was initially dubious of Sherlock but that’s got more to do with Stephen Moffat’s writing skills than anything else. I long for the day that we see a Sherlock Holmes that we’ve never seen before. It was the reason that I really wanted to see Ian McKellen playing an older Holmes. I had always expected to watch it when it came out but life never quite pans out as you expect.
One of the best and most devastating sketches by the comedy duo Mitchell and Webb is one that features Sherlock Holmes. In it, Holmes is suffering from dementia and living in an old people’s home. Still dreaming of the period in which he was still the brilliant man he always was, Watson indulges his friend and pretends that he is still the most celebrated mind in England. It starts off being a silly and funny slapstick sort of thing but, towards the end, Sherlock has a moment of lucidity and it’s heartbreaking. Here is a man who had the sharpest mind ever and he is unable to perform simple tasks.
I’ve never been able to get over it and that was a 5-minute sketch. So, the idea that a whole feature film was going to be made about it did worry me. Add to that he was played by national treasure Ian McKellen only made it worse. After all, I don’t want to come face-to-face with the realisation that Ian McKellen is getting older. To see him looking so old and feeble is quite intense. Whoever made him look so much older did an incredible job. It’s so realistic and his mannerisms only sell it further. You can tell from the off that this isn’t going to have the same crime solving thrills that we’re used do. It certainly won’t have the same energy as the BBC’s much-loved Sherlock.
There is a crime at the centre of this film and there is evidence of the great detectives skills. However, this is a much slower drama that shows us the man that he became. Arthur Conan Doyle left Sherlock in the South Downs with bees and books. That’s where Mr Holmes finds him. It’s loosely based on 2005 Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind. Finding his memory failing, Holmes is trying to write the story of his final case. Or, as he sees it, writing the truth of his final case. The case was one of his rare failures but Watson wrote it up as another success. Sherlock feels the need to right this wrong before it’s too late.
The film takes us through the present day and back to the past as Sherlock recounts the tale. He finds a companion in his housekeepers young son. The boy is fascinated with the detective and the pair grow fond of each other. As the boy anxiously waits to hear the end of the tale, Sherlock is teaching him to care for the bees in his apiary. You won’t find many of the things that you’d expect with a Sherlock Holmes story but this is a sensitive character study. It’s stylistic and beautifully made. The story shifts in and out of focus in the same way as the detective’s mind. Is it entirely successful as a concept? Maybe not but there’s something to it.