The game is afoot... find out all about Mr Holmes!

19 Jun 2015 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

6 mins
Mr. Holmes
Mr. Holmes

Our pick of this week's new cinema releases is Mr. Holmes, a brand new take on the most famous detective of them all! Join us as we delve into the long and storied history of Sherlock Holmes films, and fill you in on all you need to know about the new one...

Sir Ian McKellen is far from the first actor to portray Sherlock Holmes...

Sherlock Holmes remains as popular now as he was in the late 1800s in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic novels. As well as countless stage, radio and television versions, Holmes is thought to be the most portrayed character in cinema history, with around 70 different actors playing the character in over 200 films!

...and there have been Sherlock Holmes films virtually since cinema began!

Some of our favourite Holmes films include 1939s The Hound of the Baskervilles, with Basil Rathbone as the titular detective; Young Sherlock Holmes, a film which imagined Sherlock as a schoolboy; and Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which gently parodied the character.

Holmes most recently appeared in cinemas with Robert Downey, Jr. playing the role in the hugely successful action packed film, simply titled Sherlock Holmes, and its sequel A Game of Shadows, with Jude Law as his companion, Doctor Watson. If you're interested in Mr. Holmes, go back and watch some of these other versions and think about why the character is so iconic and how he lends himself to such diverse interpretations.

Mr. Holmes was based on a novel... but not one of Conan Doyle's.

This film is not based on one of Conan Doyle's original stories, but on a 2005 novel by American author Mitch Cullin, called A Slight Trick of the Mind. Both the film and book have a great deal of fun suggesting that some of Holmes more idiosyncratic habits were fabricated by his long-term companion Dr. Watson. For example, in the film, Holmes denies ever having worn his iconic deer-stalker or ever smoking a pipe, and even claims to have never actually lived at 221B Baker Street, suggesting that this was a made up address in order to evade his crowds of fans!

Sir Ian McKellen had to learn a very particular skill to play Sherlock in Mr. Holmes...

In this story, Sherlock is enjoying retired life, and has become a passionate beekeeper. Sir Ian McKellen received his own training in beekeeping prior to filming, and all the beekeeping scenes are all filmed with real bees. Miraculously, Sir Ian managed to avoid getting stung once!

Mr. Holmes isn't the first time Sir Ian and director Bill Condon have teamed up...

Sir Ian McKellen previously worked with director Bill Condon in 1998s Gods And Monsters, a brilliant biopic of James Whale, the British director of the 1930s Frankenstein films, and one of the earliest openly gay figures in Hollywood. As well as receiving an Oscar nomination, Gods and Monsters brought McKellen - then best known for his stage work - to a new international audience, and helped pave the way for his casting in the likes of The Lord of the Rings and X-Men.

...and it won't be the last, either!

McKellen and Condon are reuniting again for a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, also starring Emma Watson. McKellen is thought to be playing Cogsworth, the enchanted clock. While on the surface, these are very different roles, in actual fact, Cogsworth and Mr. Holmes might have more in common than you'd think... both are serious and often strict, but both are also good-natured, intelligent and prone a touch of sass now and then!

For director Condon, Mr. Holmes is a return to his signature style...

Mr. Holmes is a return to the low-key, character-driven dramas which made Bill Condon's name, such as Gods And Monsters and Kinsey. Following a lavish film version of the musical Dreamgirls, Condon directed the final two films in the Twilight saga. Mr. Holmes is very deliberately gently paced and quiet, lending it a pleasingly old-fashioned feel.

As always with new interpretations of beloved characters, it's interesting to ponder why filmmakers think they are ripe for re-imagining; how they might bring something new to the role; and why they think a particular context would make that character appealing to today's audiences.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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