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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The game has gone lame.

Mr. Holmes (2015) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Death of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle had knocked off his titular character going over a water­fall with his nemesis in 1921. In this alternate Mr. Holmes has at age 93 gone out of town (“The prodigal has returned”) in 1947 to procure a remedy for his senility, to help him recollect his last case of 30-some years ago. His friend John Watson had used some literary license in his telling, and Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) wants to set the record straight for his own peace of mind. He's retired now to a farm­house in Sussex living with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her 14-year-old son Roger (Milo Parker). He lovingly tends an apiary (keeping bees.)

The plan is that the queen rules the hive, the drones service the queen, and the workers do the work. Sherlock is the "queen bee" here—the king of detectives—being shown homage by old and young alike. Roger is a drone doing him service in his investi­gation (and bee­keeping.) Mrs. Munro does all the house­hold work that irritatingly includes being a care­giver to this has-been detective in his dotage. She's given him a week's notice before she leaves to take another position, but Holmes might be able to stretch that out some, though memories of his last case remain frustratingly vague.


Mr. Holmes explains to an eager Roger that, “When you're a detective and a man comes to visit you, it's usually about his wife.” So it was with his last case when Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) seeing, “My Ann has changed” engaged the detective to investi­gate her (Hattie Morahan.) Ann had become distraught. After having two mis­car­riages, she took up playing the glass harmonica to distract and soothe her­self, but her teacher Madame Schirmer (Frances de la Tour) was a spiritist and the harmonica “one of the black arts used to call the dead.” She disobeyed her husband by continuing her lessons. He cut off her funds. She named her two miscarriages Grace & James and now wanted to plant tomb­stones over their empty holes as graves. Mr. Kelmot engaged the detective.

It is well known that the Pauline epistles (and the other apostles) heavily promote grace while the epistle of James emphasizes works. Hiring the stone­cutter to engrave Grace & James is by metaphor, for the purposes of this review, writing the New Testament (NT). Mrs. Kelmot paid by forging her husband's signature on a cheque. As I expound in my review of “The Wild Bunch,”

in 1933, the Sinaitic Ms. was published, being the second most important manuscript used in modern bible versions. It was discovered by Constantin Tischendorf at St. Catherine's Monastery, but the abbot only loaned it to him; he wanted it back. Tischendorf treacherously forged the abbot's signature to an agreement ceding it to the Russian Czar as a gift, who later sold it to the London Museum when he was strapped for cash, and so it has passed into scholars' hands and into our modern NT versions through an act of treason.

Our English Bible was translated into the Revised Standard Version (RSV) whose “first edition of the New Testament … appeared 11 February 1946” (Light­foot, 191), right before “Mr. Holmes” takes place in 1947. Translation had begun in 1936 shortly after the publication of the Sinaitic Ms. “Mr. Holmes” shares a philosophy in common with Solomon that, (Eccl. 12:12) “of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Mr. Holmes refers to the many books that Watson wrote about him as, “‘penny dread­fuls with an elevated prose style,’ by Watson's own account.” So many of them they're worth a dime a dozen. And Mr. Holmes's “much study” into his ole case is “a weariness of [his old] flesh.” The same can be said about modern English Bible trans­lations: there's no end to them, but should we choose to learn ancient Greek instead, that would be a weariness of the flesh.

Coming back to Solomon, he said, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his king­dom becometh poor.” Roger is that “poor and a wise child” (“He's always been clever”) while Mr. Holmes for disregarding doctor's orders is “an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.” Roger is the native son (“he that is born in his king­dom”) who “becometh poor” when his dad was killed in the war leaving his mom a working class widow. That's analogous to the wise native words of our King James Version (KJV) that became poor in currency due to reduced usage in common speech for various reasons. Never­the­less, the wise KJV is still better than the foolish, intract­able modern versions that place them­selves as authorities beyond correction from pew or scholar, “For out of prison he cometh to reign,” that is there's some kind of sordid history behind this straw king. Mr. Holmes characterizes his soul searching in the inter­vening years as, “penance, denial and guilt,” just the sort of upset a prisoner will experience, which makes this movie insightful about what went into making our modern English Bibles from the RSV onwards.

In my review of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, and elsewhere, I detailed how the RSV made changes, and then Prof. Light­foot describes, “work on a revision … to improve the Revised Standard Version by (1) altering some of its para­graph structure and punctuation” (193). The NRSV takes what was a mere clause ending a sentence in a lengthy discourse on body life, (Eph. 5:21), and makes it into a separate sentence, then inserts it after the heading for the next section on married life. The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, on the other hand, seeking to modernize the KJV punctuation, places a paragraph start (¶) between it and the following verse. Eph. 5:22 enjoins obedience of a wife to her husband. The previous verse is about cooperation among the body of believers, now brought forward by an enjambment to reduce a wife's obedience to a mere cooperation among a body of people. In this movie the cooperation is demonstrated by the detective's tail in which the husband is a redundant aid and the wife turns the tables, and eventually she makes Mr. Holmes a surprising offer. The reason behind this modification of the Bible—at least as indicated by this movie—to water down a wife's obedience, is as we've seen in war and nature, following orders gets people killed (Mr. Munro), or disappeared (Umezaki san), or driven to despair (Mrs. Kelmot.) That and the guilt over using material gotten from Tischen­dorf's disobedience to the abbot for the sake of a perceived common good.

Production Values

This film “” (2015) was directed by Bill Condon. The script by American author Mitch Cullin was adapted from his 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind. Arthur Conan Doyle developed the original characters, and Jeffrey Hatcher wrote the screen­play. British actors are always good; they must be thespians. This one had an out­standing cast that included Sir Ian McKellen in a masterful performance playing Holmes at both 60 and 93. Unfortunately, some of them had all too little to do in underwritten roles.

MPAA rated it PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking. Period detail is convincing in multiple periods. A switching around of time lines w/ flash­backs helps the viewer gain the perspective of Mr. Holmes's own muddled mind. Director of Photography Tobias Schleisser achieved rich land­scapes. This film is very British in language and in gentility. The score by Carter Burwell enhances the film for us.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scene. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, Print.

Lightfoot, Neil R.. How We Got the Bible. New York: MJF Books, 2003. Print.