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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Who's Your Holmes?

Illustrious Clients watch "Mr. Holmes." Steve Doyle photo 
We watched several great actors playing Sherlock Holmes at the annual Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis film festival in Zionsville, IN, on Saturday. I enjoyed them all.

Douglas Wilmer, as Holmes, solved the case of “The Speckled Band” in a 1964 BBC adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle short story. This was a kind of pilot for the series that launched the following year. Wilmer and Nigel Stock, as Dr. Watson, are both excellent here, as are the rest of the cast. The faithful script expands on the original story without doing it any serious harm.

The program was videotaped in black and white, leaving something to be desired in production values. But all and all it, was a great effort.

Twenty years later came Jeremy Brett and David Burke in the great Granada series. The offering on Saturday was “The Red Headed League” from 1985. Brett gives his usual unique and energetic interpretation of the Great Detective, and Burke (like Stock) is a Watson we can recognize from the Canon.

This time the story gets a twist: Moriarty is the genius behind the Red Headed League, as some Holmes scholars posited long ago. This was a set-up for the last episode of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” the next week: “The Final Problem.”

The penultimate showing of the day (before the forgettable silent movie with Detective Hawkshaw) was the feature film Mr. Holmes (2015). I had previously avoided this movie, partly because I didn’t care for Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind (2005), on which it is based. That was a mistake – this is a really great motion picture.

Ian McKellen flawlessly plays a 93-year-old Holmes keeping bees on the Sussex Downs in the late 1940s. Much of the film is told in flashbacks on two tracks – to his last case 20 years previously, and to his more recent trip to Japan. Holmes is trying to recover his failing memory, and it comes back only slowly. In the end it all fits together wonderfully, including what appears to be a toss-off line in a train at the beginning of the film.

Mr. Holmes is beautifully written, beautifully acted, and beautifully filmed.

I’ve often said I think there are a lot of good portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, but not so many good Holmes movies or TV shows. On Saturday, I saw three of them.

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