Director Bill Condon’s brilliant “Mr. Holmes” is not a Sherlock Holmes movie, but rather a movie “about a man who happens to be Sherlock Holmes,” says producer Anne Carey.
Ian McKellen, in his first film with Condon since the equally great “Gods and Monsters,” gives a masterful performance as the title character, who, at 93, is retired and keeps bees. With his memory failing him, he tries to remember the facts of his final case and why it might have led him to retire.
Carey, in San Franicsco earlier this year to promote the film, says screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (“Casanova,” “The Duchess”) was the first and only person considered for the job of adapting the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin, which reimagines Holmes as a real person whose adventures have been turned into detective novels by his friend and partner Dr John Watson.
Hatcher says he received his first volume of Holmes stories at age 10. and spent many years watching the movies and TV shows.
Likewise, no one other than McKellen was considered for Holmes.
Meanwhile, Laura Linney, who co-stars as Holmes’ grumpy housekeeper, also has been a Holmes fan since childhood, and already was a favorite of director Condon. (She received an Oscar nomination for the Condon-directed “Kinsey.”)
“It’s kind of a one-stop movie,” says Carey.
Yet it took some time to produce the film, because other Sherlock Holmes-related productions – Robert Downey Jr. movies and the TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch – became popular.
“We had to wait for the wave to crest,” says Hatcher. “That’s the cool thing about Sherlock Holmes. There’s always a few years since the next iteration. If you look back, you’re amazed at the number of people playing Holmes.
For Hatcher, this movie is unique: “I think this is the only one that deals with the idea of what it’s like to have been turned into a fictional character,” he says.
In another brilliant touch, McKellen’s Holmes attends a Sherlock Holmes movie, the star of which is none other than grown-up Nicholas Rowe, who played “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985).
“That was something that Bill brought: the idea of Holmes watching himself,” Carey says. “He realized it would communicate visually many of the things that we had been doing in a more writerly way.”
“Mr. Holmes” is not based on the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, though it takes cues from hints and clues — for example, a reference to beekeeping — scattered throughout those works.
“Whenever a writer leaves a gap,” Hatcher says, smiling, “and you can get in there and fill it, and it doesn’t alter what came before or after it, it’s fantastic.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by: Bill Condon
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes