Bill Condon and Ian McKellen, who collaborated on the Oscar-winning Gods and Monsters, make such a good team that it’s almost possible to overlook the director’s desultory entries in the Twilight series (he even managed to make the gifted Michael Sheen look like an amateur).
In this affecting three-hander, which draws from Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as a 93-year-old retiree working on his memoir, struggling with memory loss, reliving two troubling cases, and mentoring an impressionable boy named Roger (Milo Parker, a fine foil). There are also intriguing bits of business concerning bees, wasps, and the restorative bark of the prickly ash.
If the idea of a Holmes narrative penned by anyone other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives purists pause, Cullin and Condon have done their homework, and Mr. Holmes expands on Doyle's work rather than trying to correct or update it for 21st-century sensibilities. The relationship that develops between Sherlock and Roger reflects, in ways both positive and negative, the brilliant detective's previous dealings with his partner Watson, his nemesis Moriarty, and his enigmatic brother Mycroft.
Laura Linney, as Roger's housekeeper mother, plays one of two women (Hattie Morahan plays the other) who calls Sherlock on his bullshit. If Linney's Irish accent is wobbly, her perceptive character exposes the flaws in his win-at-all-costs attitude.