It’s 1947, and Holmes is long retired to a country house, where he tends his bees and his failing memory. He’s struggling to remember a case 35 years earlier that set the course of the final decades of his life.
Laura Linney co-stars as Mrs. Munro, his put-upon housekeeper, grieving her husband who was killed in World War II. Mrs. Munro is barely keeping it together; Linney portrays her as a portrait in silent, dignified suffering. Linney’s English accent sounds pretty good to me, but what do I know? I’m a Californian.
Child actor Milo Parker plays Roger, the housekeeper’s son, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Holmes and who treats his mother with disdain. Holmes treats her as a servant: not cruelly, but not kindly either.
The nonagenarian Holmes is slowly and dignifiedly falling to pieces. He’s still a genius and he’s now facing up to a new antagonist: his own disintegrating mind. McKellen also plays Holmes in flashback, in his late 50s, dignified and elegantly dressed in a suit and top hat, standing erect and moving and speaking with confidence.
Look for Roger Allam, who played Fred Thursday on “Endeavour,” as a doctor who examines Holmes.
Overall, a pretty good movie. Slow start, but good performances, visually appealing and good dialogue.
From Wikipedia: In the movie, Sherlock Holmes goes to see a Sherlock Holmes movie. The black-and-white scene from the movie-within-a-movie stars Nicholas Rowe as Holmes. Rowe starred in the 1985 movie “Young Sherlock Holmes,” playing the detective as a schoolboy.
From the IMDB: McKellen studied beekeeping to prepare for the movie and was not stung during the course of filming. (No mention whether the other actors were stung.)
The IMDB Goofs page makes many gratifyingly nitpicky points., including:
Holmes (perhaps forgivably for 1947) repeats the mistaken idea that “the queen runs the colony and the workers do the work” - in fact, a queen bee is no more than an enlarged egg-making machine at the service of a worker collective, which will slaughter her should she falter, while other worker bees create a replacement queen. Also when the colony grows too large, it is the workers who make the decision to swarm, by starving the queen which both lightens up her body and forces her to take flight.