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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mr. Holmes is a drama about the "real life" version of Sherlock Holmes, retired at age 93 and dealing with memory loss. Though the movie has some mystery elements, it's not a traditional Holmes whodunnit, and it certainly isn't an explosive action adventure like the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. There are some upsetting images/topics, including a boy being stung by wasps, a man falling out of bed, bloody cuts, a woman being hit by a train, a girl with scars on her face, and references to things like miscarriages and poison. Language is limited to one use of "damn," and there's some background smoking. Although this all adds up to not very much in the way of iffy material, younger viewers might be a little bored by the concerns of an elderly man (although his 14-year-old friend could be a draw). But for patient viewers, it's an outstanding, extremely thoughtful movie about the mysteries of memory and storytelling.
What's the story?
At age 93, the real-life Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is retired, living by the seaside and tending bees in MR. HOLMES. A grumpy housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), helps care for him, and he travels to Japan to obtain a medicine called "prickly ash" to jog his memory. Something about his final case leaves him with an uneasy feeling; the fictional version written by the late Mr. Watson has a happy ending that doesn't add up. Mrs. Munro's young son, Roger (Milo Parker), becomes interested in the story, and Holmes finds bits of it returning as he teaches the boy about bees. The case involved a sad woman whose husband wanted her followed, and, bit by bit, Holmes begins to understand what really happened to her.
Is it any good?
After two Twilight movies, director Bill Condon returns to the territory of his best movie, Gods and Monsters, with this thoughtful, low-key drama about the mysteries of memory and storytelling. Mr. Holmes may disappoint some viewers by not actually being a Sherlock Holmes mystery (nor is it an explosive adventure like Guy Ritche's Sherlock Holmes), but it's a great movie, a brilliant rumination on the delicate nature of human memory and the way we need to tell stories, not just for entertainment, but to live.
Screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (working from Mitch Cullin's novel) constructs an elaborate series of meditative flashbacks, dreams, and memories. It's deep and complex, and Condon makes it all seem quietly simple. Nothing seems concrete or certain, yet everything is connected, from the use of glass and bees, books, and movies, to young Roger's inability to remember stories from his early years. The fine performances by Condon regulars McKellen and Linney top it off. (Fun fact: The grown-up star of 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes, Nicholas Rowe, appears as a screen version of Holmes in a movie house.)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Mr. Holmes' upsetting/violent images. Very little violence is shown, and yet there are several disturbing events. How does the impact of what you see compare to that of what you don't see? Have movies become more violent over the years?
How does this movie compare to other Sherlock Holmes films? Is it more or less exciting? More or less thoughtful? More or less mysterious? Which is your favorite take on Sherlock, and why? How can bringing a preconceived notion of what a Sherlock Holmes story should be change your perception of what this movie actually is?
Have you ever been in a situation in which you used logic rather than emotion or imagination? What about the opposite? How did it work out?
How much smoking is shown or discussed in the movie? How was the attitude toward smoking different in those times?
- In theaters: July 17, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: November 10, 2015
- Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker
- Director: Bill Condon
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book characters, Bugs, Friendship
- Character strengths: Communication
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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