No, you did not blink and suddenly age 15 years — Ian McKellen is not in his '90s. McKellen is, however, playing Sherlock Holmes very late in his life, as the first teaser trailer for Mr. Holmes illustrates. It's the first real footage we've gotten for the film so far after months of stills. (Let's face it, though, "Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes" has been enough to keep me going.) And now that the first trailer's here, it might be interesting to see where this incarnation of Holmes fits in with other incarnations of recent years — namely, with Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, and Jonny Lee Miller's, and Robert Downey Jr.'s.
The one biggest difference is readily evident: This Holmes is old. Very few Holmes iterations have been significantly young — in fact, one of the angles going into BBC's Sherlock was that Cumberbatch's interpretation was the iconic character years before the usual era (usually middle age) in which we see him. But this Holmes is not young, and he is not middle-aged: He's at the end of his life, retired — his Watson having died years ago — and keeping bees. This is is undoubtedly a different angle than the Holmes we're used to, especially in the cavalcade of raucous and boastful Holmes' the past six years or so have churned out.
In case you're curious, here's a rough timeline of these recent Holmes, from estimated youngest to definite oldest. It'd certainly be a raucous story if they all existed in the same canonical timeline.
The Youngest Holmes: Benedict Cumberbatch In Sherlock
Watson by his side, a friendship origin story at the center of Season 1. Age: Around early- to mid-thirties, if this post is to be believed and if we're going at least roughly off of Cumberbatch's actual age.
The Middle Children: Jonny Lee Miller In Elementary, Robert Downey Jr. In the Sherlock Holmes Films
Miller is 42, so let's put him a scotch older than Cumberbatch's Sherlock.
Robert Downey Jr. is 49, so even back when the first film premiered in 2009 he fit squarely into the middle-aged Holmes tradition — even if his film was a lot mor manic than many Holmesian projects.
The Eldest Holmes
McKellen would have been the oldest even if he'd played it as his own age (75), but they aged him up even further. As for what this Holmes' story is, here's the synopsis:
Mr. Holmes is a new twist on the world’s most famous detective. 1947, an aging Sherlock Holmes returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the circumstances of the unsolved case that forced him into retirement, and searches for answers to the mysteries of life and love – before it’s too late.
Gotta love those bees.
Image: Roadside Attractions