The bee is a close relation to the wasp and ant, its scientific name is Anthophila. Its biological name is Apoidea, which is why they live in apiaries and those little, converted scooter-trucks in Italy are called apes (pronounced ah-pays) because of the buzzing sound they make.
The basic bee lives for 12 months, a lifespan in stark contrast to the main character in Mr Holmes (2015), where the main character lives well into his nineties and does so with great dignity until he becomes what was called senile in the post-World War II period and is more commonly known today as having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (hope that’s right Doctor?)
Bees, or in fact a wasp at the beginning, begin, dominate the middle and help provide a tidy ending to Mr Holmes – Sherlock in his dotage.
The movie is adapted from the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is directed by Bill Condon, whose previous credits include Gods and Monsters (1998), Kinsey (2004), Dreamgirls (2006) and the early Twilight films.
In Gods and Monsters he directed the famous British stage actor Ian McKellen, who plays Holmes, and he also recalled one of his other leading players from his cv – Laura Linney. In 2010, Condon directed the pilot for the TV series The Big C where Linney played the main character, a woman dying of cancer.
Together Condon and Cullin have crafted a delightful fiction based on the final years of Holmes’s life with the mystery provided by two back stories involving a case he didn’t finish and a curious post-Hiroshima meeting with a young Japanese man, who has lured the 90-plus-year-old to Japan with promises of a cure for senility.
Watching this degeneration are Holmes’s widow-housekeeper Mrs Munro (Linney) and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker), he about an eight-year-old oblivious to the fact and just enjoying the male bonding and teaching the kindly Holmes provides. It is these moments together that produce the film’s best scenes: endearing, heart-wrenching and instructional. All impressionable boys should have an intelligent and patient old man to teach them the ways of the world.
Holmes does this mainly through sharing his attempt at writing a novel with Roger and teaching him how to look after bees. With the passing of Holmes’s great friend and former sidekick, Dr John Watson, Roger has become the closest thing he has to a friend. The two actors – veteran and tyro – are beautiful together.
However, this relationship appears to disturb Roger’s mother and she is making plans to leave Holmes before he becomes too dependent on her ministering.
While this set-on-the-coast somewhere on England’s shores action is happening, Holmes is trying to piece together the memories of his last case where he follows a missing woman before confronting her with the truth of what she is up to, a story so different to that confected by her perplexed husband.
Because the case doesn’t turn out to Holmes’s satisfaction, he is trying to remember it and why it puzzles him so much. Is his arrogance so great, that the only ‘failure’ in his professional life has been suppressed?
His reason for wanting to record this story has many levels but another is his determination to have a true Holmes story, rather than those written by Watson where the famous detective wears a deer stalker hat and smokes a briar pipe. There is no mention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Mr Holmes and the film makes fun of the stereotypical Holmes image, even to the point where 221b Baker Street is a fake address to draw tourists while Holmes looks incredulously through his window in the apartment opposite at ‘the mostly Americans’ who want to see where he lives.
Mr Holmes is an original idea using a famous character and I would be belittling it to suggest this is what we have to look forward to: writers creating stories about famous people and what happened to them after we last saw them. I have a dream to write the story of what happened next to Rick Blaine and Captain Louis Renault as they walked off into the fog at the end of Casablanca (1942). “Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship” is probably the best lead-in line ever written for a sequel.
In Mr Holmes we have the added plus in its depiction of dementia, so beautifully recorded in The Iron Lady (2011) and slightly diminished by the critically well received Still Alice (2014).