Somebody, somewhere, must be keeping an account of just how many times in books and movies there have been outside-the-canon stories of old Sherlock. There have several of them lately, one series starring Robert Downey, Jr. (which I hated) and another on TV with Benedict Slumbercrutch (or whatever his name is) and Martin Freeman, which I love, except for the recent one-off. Back in 1985 Spielberg made one about him as a young man (which I didn’t like very much). The list is just about endless. A surprising number of them have been good.
So here we have Sherlock, 93 years old in 1947, living on a farm on the Kentish Coast, within sight of Dover’s white cliffs, where he keeps bees and is rapidly succumbing to senility. He is desperately trying to reconstruct his last case, after which he retired, which happened way back in 1918. He knows there is something important for him there. Why did he retire? He can’t remember. Watson wrote it up, but as always, he embellished the story and in this case changed the ending.
The theme here is that of a man who has had only one friend and no emotional life trying to reach out and connect with someone. If he had been even a few years younger I would have objected, but it works well here. He befriends a bright young boy, the housekeeper’s son, who clearly wants to be a detective when he grows up. So we see the story in flashbacks as certain items remind him of parts of the case. There is a sub-plot involving a trip to Hiroshima, of all places, from which he has just returned. It seemed very much apart from the rest of the story, but at the end we see that is actually vital.
Sir Ian McKellan is terrific as the old grouch gradually finding a helping of humanity, and the kid is pretty good, too. There is a nice touch that I would have missed it I hadn’t gone to the IMDb. The boy who played the great detective in Young Sherlock Holmes is named Nicholas Rowe. In the course of Mr. Holmes Sherlock goes to a movie theater to see one of the dreadful black and white dramatizations of one of Dr. Watson’s stories. The movie Sherlock is played by Rowe. How fitting! And it’s a funny scene, to see the old man watching himself be portrayed so badly.