The film is based on a book that tells the ongoing story of a character in books which makes Mr. Holmes very bookish indeed.
The titular Mr. Holmes is of course that great detective Sherlock Holmes. (We will all agree that he was a real person, won't we?)
The movie is based on the book A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin and finds Mr. Holmes just after World War II living in retirement with his bees on the Sussex coast. He is 93 years old and his memory has dimmed with age. He is watched over by a housekeeper. Her young son Roger - who is quite smart himself - admires the brilliance of Mr. Holmes. Roger often asks Mr. Holmes to "do that thing" where he looks at someone and can tell exactly where they have been and what they have been doing.
Mr. Holmes often disavows his characterization by Dr. Watson as a deerstalker-wearing, pipe-smoking detective. His friend, he says, took a little too much literary license.
Of course because this is Sherlock Holmes there is mystery here. He is trying to remember the conclusion of his last case, the one that sent him into this self-imposed exile many years ago. He struggles to write about it but the details are not quite on the tip of his pen. Roger continues to prod him to finish the story.
Another mystery: What is killing the bees?
The tale moves between the present and the past as Sherlock tries to unlock the mystery of his own mystery.
Ian McKellen is perfect as the aging Mr. Holmes. As one reviewer noted, McKellen's resonant voice sounds as if he has been "gargling honey" for a quarter of a century.
Laura Linney portrays the put-upon widowed housekeeper who finds herself nursing this often crotchety and quarrelsome old fellow. Milo Parker is terrific as Roger, her son. I was quite captivated by him.
The bees play themselves.
The film itself is beautiful and the glimpse of white chalk cliffs in the background in a couple of scenes and gardens and fields of green will make you yearn to be in England. And Mr. Holmes' study. Oh, my! Filled with books and books and books. And his writing desk is just perfect with nib pen, bottled ink, and elegant papers at the ready. I longed to transport myself there to be amongst his treasures.
There are no car chases here. No bloody fights. It is a quiet film that takes an intriguing and poignant look at this beloved aging detective.