Long before Scholastic became a YA powerhouse with the Harry Potter books, there was the Scholastic Book Service in the Medina and White Plains public schools. I ordered a lot of books, even on a budget from my folks. But sometimes the orders messed up.
One time my bundle included something called A Taste for Honey. Since (a) I hadn't ordered it and the order sheet proved it and (b) they didn't take returns -- I got a free book. It wasn't anything I would have ordered, but even in the 4th or 5th grade I could tell that they were obliquely talking about Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Mycroft, indeed.
I have this memory that I hated the ending, that the person murdering people with killer Africanized bees, was Holmes himself. Sort of like making Jim Phelps the villain in the Mission: Impossible reboot. Unthinkable. But maybe the narrator just suspected him -- it's been nearly fifty years ago that I read it.
So I did an Amazon and Google search, figuring it was a long shot. Actually, no. This is the first of three Holmes-ish novels written by H.F. Heard about Mr. Mycroft and his friend, Mr. Silchester: A Taste for Honey, Reply Paid and The Notched Hairpin. A Taste for Honey was first published in 1941. My curiosity piqued, I found some used copies of the edition I had -- the one fulfilled by Amazon themselves was more expensive, but with free shipping it was actually less. Always watch those shipping costs.
No, this is not the basis for the movie below. But I mention this because it was the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever read, even if it wasn't canon. The real stuff came later. We have a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which I read during lunch while in grad school one summer. Along with all the James Bond novels.
Mr. Holmes [PG]
Celebration Woodland Theatre 7, 3:10pm, 2×$5.00
Ian McKellen certainly has kept busy. He was Gandalf in the LOTR/Hobbit movies -- and he's been palling around with Patrick Stewart on both stage and Facebook/Twitter. Here, though, he takes on the iconic role of Sherlock Holmes. But not the Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not directly anyway, but a re-imagining of the great detective in his retirement. During the opening credits we both caught sight of a "Based on the..." tag that wasn't Doyle -- turns out this is based on a 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, which we haven't read either.
Though not canon, it is not at conflict with canon, either. Holmes was said to have assisted His Majesty's government during the Great War, and as this movie takes place in 1947, with flashbacks of some thirty years to about 1917, and at some point retiring to raise bees. That puts us here. Wikipedia cites "An estimate of Holmes's age in "His Last Bow" places his year of birth at 1854; the story, set in August 1914, describes him as 60 years of age." And color me surprised that 1947 - 93 = 1854. I'd just assumed they'd been sloppy with the timing in order to get to post-WWII. Instead, even the 1947 age agrees with canon. Well played.
In "His Last Bow", Holmes has retired to a small farm on the Sussex Downs. The move is not dated precisely, but can be presumed to predate 1904 (since it is referred to retrospectively in "The Second Stain", first published that year). He has taken up beekeeping as his primary occupation, producing a Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. The story features Holmes and Watson coming out of retirement to aid the war effort. Only one other adventure, "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (narrated by Holmes), takes place during the detective's retirement. The details of his death are unknown.We hardly have to even mention the genius of Ian McKellen. Laura Linney is always terrific -- here she has to play a somewhat downtrodden housekeeper, war widow, trying to raise her son and put up with Holmes' idiosyncrasies. The boy is terrific, reminding us both of the boy in Love, Actually, who himself has grown up into one of the Maze Runner boys. (grin)
There are multiple mysteries going on, which are not made any easier because Holmes has gotten old and his precious mind is betraying him. In the beginning I thought, my God, Ian McKellen looks awful. But then we are shown scenes from 30 years earlier, when he is a sparkling and dapper silver haired gentleman.
The mysteries themselves are adequate and there are plenty of clues sprinkled around. But it is the very human Mr. Holmes whom we are following here. I know there were some mixed review, but I found the movie charming -- especially refreshing after a fairly stiff (by design) opening. None of us live forever, not even favorite fictional detectives, but we feared for a dark depressing ending. But they did well, we thought.
Trailers: The Prophet -- Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet as an animated movie? This is a kid's story? Or...? Intriguing, I think. I did have a visceral reaction to Liam Neeson's voice as the title character. I'm afraid that hearing in my head, "I am a poet. I have a special set of skills. And I will find you and kill you", just didn't fit the mood of this introspective work. Never read it. Was amazed to discover that when it was popular a few years ago that it was as a resurging reprint. The book is from 1923. Pan -- Another Peter Pan re-imagining. But Tim Curry as the proto-Hook is always going to be suitable. I didn't hate the Dustin Hoffman/Robin Williams Hook years ago, but it was light stuff. I hope they can do better here. We'll see. Goosebumps -- have seen this trailer before. Jack Black and the books, whose monsters get out. (scream!) Kung Fu Panda 3 -- I give Jack Black props for making this franchise, but I'm still not sure of the logic of putting kid movie trailers for Mr. Holmes. Unless they're figure they're playing to grandma.
We followed our movie with an outstanding dinner out, which will deserve its own blog entry Real Soon Now.
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