When I was nine or ten, my father took me to the Jamaica branch of the New York Public Library. There I found and checked out a fat, stubby book containing all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's accounts of the doings of Sherlock Holmes -- four novels and fifty-six short stories. I read that book from cover to cover, over and over, and the next December, for my Christmas and birthday present, my parents gave me my own copy, bound in bright red. It was one of my most prized possessions. As a young teen -ager, I subscribed to The Baker Street Journal, the publication of an organization of Holmes enthusiasts who styled themselves "The Baker Street Irregulars" after the group of urchins who served as Holmes' eyes and ears in the streets and alleyways of Victorian London.
At the Main Street Theater during those years, I saw many of the fourteen films in which Holmes and Watson were portrayed by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. It took me some while, years later, to adjust to Jeremy Brett's more mannered interpretation of Holmes, and I have never come to terms with Robert Downey Jr.'s utterly wrong reading of the character and style of the great detective.
So it was with some uneasiness that I approached the latest film interpretation, that of Ian McKellen in the newly released Mr. Holmes. McKellen, a splendid English actor now famous as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, plays an aged and quite infirm Holmes who, at 92, is suffering from memory loss. He has for thirty years been living alone in a country house looking after his bees, looked after by a series of housekeepers. The current holder of that thankless job, caring both for Holmes and for her young son, is played by Laura Linney, who gives a beautiful reading of the part.
The movie is quiet, leisurely, patient -- as one must be with the very old -- and simply lovely. McKellen, who is actually 76, does equally well as the 92 year old Holmes and as the 60 year old Holmes in a series of flashbacks to Holmes' last case, which the 92 year old is struggling to recall. It is a bravura piece of acting from old Gandalf, and as a one-time Baker Street Irregular who has himself grown old, I recommend it to you.