Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Ian McKellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney
(PG, 105 min.)
Genre: Drama, Art House and International, Mystery and Suspense
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates
The title says it all. Finally, some overdue respect for the iconic sleuth. And it's about time. He is 93 years old in this latest Holmes saga.
We are not on a first name basis here, as we are with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, which time warps a young Holmes to the present, where he is a self-described “high functioning sociopath" gleefully traipsing around modern day London.
In fact, we can lie to rest all those reinventions that feel the need to add sex, drugs and rock and roll, or at least the former two, to spice up the cerebral detective.
It is 1947 and Mr. Holmes is settled into a quiet life in Sussex raising bees. The incomparable Ian McKellen in the title role has exchanged his his grey Gandalf robes for a top hat and tails, which as his Holmes explains, was what he really wore around London. The famous deerstalker hat being only one of many inaccurate theatrical touches added by ambitious actors and illustrators.
But while he is certainly physically “settled” in Sussex, Holmes is far from settled mentally. At 93, he is losing his memory and going to great lengths to revive it. The royal jelly from his bees hasn’t done the trick, and as the film opens, we have him returning from Japan to reap the rare prickly ash plant that promises relief. Because Holmes has become obsessed on solving his final case from 30 years ago, the case that caused him to quit being a detective.
But it is neither the royal jelly nor the prickly ash that stimulates his mind. It is the Roger (Milo Parker), the bright and curious son of his housekeeper, who becomes his assistant beekeeper and confidant.
I searched for something to jog my memory of the actual case and there it was, a picture. You know, a few years ago, I could have told you everything about the woman in that photograph. Certainly, I'd recall what had come of her whether she was victim of culprit. But that night, I couldn't remember any of it. The only thing for certain was the case was my last and was why I left the profession, came down here to tend to my bees. So, I've decided to write the story down on paper as it was, not as John made it. Get it right before I die.
So, with Holmes taking over for Watson (John), Roger becomes his audience of one, reading the story as Holmes pieces it together and asking questions and prodding him along when needed.
Indeed, it is the sweet relationship between the two rather than the central mystery of the film that resonates. Mr. Holmes teaches Roger to tend to his bees with a tenderness and patience not usually associated with the coldly logical detective. There is a playfulness in their verbal exchanges as open and spirited as their frolicking plunge into the sea together.
Roger Monro: You're not going to die.
Sherlock Holmes: I'm 93.
Roger Monro: I had a great uncle who lived to be 102.
Sherlock Holmes: Well then, that seals my fate. What are the odds that you would know two men who would live that long?
Roger Monro: Well, I didn't actually know him.
If anyone is somewhat cold and logical here, it is Roger”s war widow mother (Laura Linney), who is doubly resentful of caring for a declining Holmes – “He needs a nurse, not a housekeeper” – and observing her son fall under his spell. While some critics have wanted more out of her character, Different Drummer sees her as a reminder of what Holmes himself was most of his life. She is a sort of foil to the older Holmes, who is examining his earlier life and finding it wanting.
We get to see Holmes as a fully realized person here, and there is sly humor in his comments about his portrayal in film and fiction. He dismisses Watson’s writing as potboiler fiction dressed up in stylish prose.
If I should ever write a story myself, it will be to correct the millions of misconceptions created by his imaginative license.
And Mr. Holmes and the film’s director Bill Condon have some fun in doing so. We see him in the theater watching some of the black and white melodrama we associate with Basil Rathbone, only here Holmes is played by a now grown up Nicolas Rowe, who first charmed us as Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. Mr. Holmes, sitting in the theater audience says nothing, but his facial expression makes words unnecessary.
Fans of the somewhat irreverent Elementary or Sherlock, or the Bond like Robert Downey reinvention will probably miss the impertinence and the action, but for real Holmes aficionados, this gentle tribute is a special gift.
Let’s keep Mr. Holmes’ unsmiling housekeeper busy. Mrs. Monro will have less to complain about with her hands occupied, and maybe the honey will sweeten her disposition. At any rate, there is plenty of it to come by with all those bees buzzing around the country estate.
Enjoy this light custard as the perfect ending to your day.
An elegant make-ahead dessert, these custards sing with faint floral notes and sweet honey. Serving tip: Flans release like a dream if you let the custard cups stand in 1 inch of warm water for 3 to 5 minutes before unmolding.
1/2 cup sugar
7 tablespoons honey (such as orange blossom), divided
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup milk
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Sprinkle sugar in a 3-qt. saucepan; place over medium heat, and cook, gently shaking pan, 4 minutes or until sugar melts and turns a light golden brown. Slowly stir in 3 Tbsp. honey. (Mixture will clump a little; gently stir just until melted.) Remove from heat; immediately pour hot caramelized sugar into 6 (6-oz.) ramekins.
2. Process condensed milk, next 4 ingredients, and remaining 4 Tbsp. honey in a blender 10 to 15 seconds or until smooth; pour evenly over sugar in each ramekin. Place ramekins in a 13- x 9-inch pan. Add hot tap water to pan to a depth of 1 inch. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
3. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until slightly set. (Flan will jiggle when pan is shaken.) Remove ramekins from water bath; place on a wire rack. Cool 30 minutes. Cover and chill 3 hours. Run a knife around edges of flans to loosen; invert flans onto a serving plate.