Mr Holmes | 2015
A Slight Trick Of The Mind, Mitch Cullen’s 2005 novel about Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective, in retirement and fearing encroaching dementia, is adapted as an elegiac drama by Bill Condon, director of Gods And Monsters and Kinsey.
It’s 1947 and he’s retired to a cottage near the sea, tending bees and increasingly dependent on the attentions of housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her bright and inquisitive young son Roger (Milo Parker).
The country retreat looks a bucolic dream and, the good news is that the delightful farmhouse cottage is not only real, but that you can stay there.
Supposedly in ‘Cuckmere Haven’, it’s Wickham Manor Farm, Wickham Rock Lane, a National Trust B&B in Winchelsea, near Rye in East Sussex. You can even book the ‘Mr Holmes’ cottage for a stay. Winchelsea itself is a small town between the High Weald and the Romney Marsh, about two miles southwest of Rye and seven miles northeast of Hastings.
Mr Holmes regales Roger with the fading recollections of his last case as they walk along Seaford Head on the south coast, with the dramatic white cliffs of the Seven Sisters in the background.
For this spectacular view of the cliffs, head to Seven Sisters Country Park, nearly 700 acres chalk downs off the A259 at Exceat, between Eastbourne and Seaford. If you enjoy hiking in beautiful surroundings, you can walk the ten miles to along the hills to Eastbourne. You can reach Seaford directly by train from London Victoria.
Holmes returns from a trip to Japan where he’s been investigating the medicinal properties of a rare herb, and travels back to his home on a wonderful steam train running on the familiar Bluebell Railway in Sussex, with Horsted Keynes Station standing in for ‘Cuckmere Haven’. The line is popular on screen, appearing in two biopics – Richard Attenborough's Chaplin with Robert Downey Jr and The Theory Of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne as Prof Stephen Hawking.
The Japanese scenes contain just a few glimpses of the real Japan, courtesy of a second unit. The iron railway bridge overlooked by mountains is the Oigawa Main Line railway, which runs north from Kanaya Station in Shimada to Senzu Station in Kawanehon, about 100 miles west of Tokyo. And the exterior of the restaurant visited by Holmes and his host, Mr Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), is perched above the spectacular Doro-kyo Gorge, a 31-kilometer-long ravine along the Kitayama-gawa River, a tributary of the Kumano-gawa River in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park in the Kii Peninsula south of Osaka.
Most of the ‘Hiroshima’ sequence, though, is filmed at Chatham Historic Dockyard, previously seen in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr as a very different version of the detective, as well as in Tom Hooper’s film of Les Misérables, Stephen Sommers' 1999 The Mummy and Sarah Gavron's Suffragette.
The production turns the Dockyard’s Anchor Wharf and the exterior of the Ropery into Japanese streets, while the Tarred Yarn Store (which was previously used as Jean Valjean’s factory in Les Misérables) becomes the interior of the Japanese restaurant.
Tilbury Docks previously stood in for the docks of ‘Venice’ during the boat-chase scene in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, and as ‘Gotham Docks’ in Batman Begins (nearby Tilbury Fort was also used as the ‘Bhutanese’ prison in Christopher Nolan’s film).
The flashbacks to Holmes’s sketchily-remember last case in 1923 use plenty of real period locations around London.
The wittiest joke in the film comes with the revelation that the famous ‘221b Baker Street’ address is a ruse by Dr Watson to distract sightseers from their door (seriously, people would go to gawp at a house just because it was featured in a book?). The elegant Georgian terraces of Bloomsbury stand in for ‘Baker Street’, with 36 Bedford Row at Princeton Street, WC1, becoming the digs of Holmes and Watson.
It’s here that Holmes takes on the case of Mr Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy), who’s worried about the state of mind of his distraught wife, Anne.
The exterior of the bookshop of Madam Schirmer (Frances De La Tour), to which Holmes follows Mrs Kelmot (Hattie Morahan), is 18 Barter Street, WC1, a print and design shop in a tiny row of shops off Southampton Row, just west of Holborn.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the surprisingly large interior is a different location altogether, a little to the north. The book-filled shelves are those of the Dr Williams Library, 14 Gordon Square, WC1.
And to complicate matters, the view of the gardens from the rear of the shop is New Square in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the quaintly traditional heart of London’s legal profession.
When Holmes exits the shop, he notices Mrs Kelmot gazing into a shop window. The ‘taxidermist’ really is a bookshop – law booksellers Wildy & Sons, Lincoln’s Inn Archway, WC2.
The name of the shop in the film, ‘Ambrose Chappell’, is a little movie in-joke. Ambrose Chapel was the Camden taxidermist investigated by James Stewart after the kidnapping of his son in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Holmes tails Anne Kelmot through the vaulted Undercroft beneath the Chapel of Lincoln’s Inn. The striking space is a favourite location, seen also in Tony Richardson’s 1963 Oscar-winner Tom Jones, in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – and in the 1995 Ian McKellen screen version of Richard III.
There’s a sudden leap of around 30 miles, north from WC2 to Hertfordshire, to find the formal garden, with its odd geometric topiary where Holmes engages Anne Kelmot in conversation. This is the garden of Hatfield House, Hatfield, another screen favourite.
The house also appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and his update of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, in Greystoke, The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, as well as such period pieces as Shekhar Kapur's epic Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Oscar-winner Shakespeare in Love and Henry VIII And His Six Wives, and Sally Potter’s time-shifting, gender-shifting film of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
It’s back to East Sussex if you want to see the picture house interior. This is the beautiful 1921 Hailsham Pavilion, George Street in Hailsham, about eight miles north of Eastbourne. The Pavilion, like many other cinemas, closed down in the Sixties, but has been restored, opening in 2000 as an independent cinema which also functions as a theatre and a live music venue.
And one more little movie joke. The actor playing the ‘traditional’ Sherlock Holmes on screen is Nicholas Rowe, who played the youthful detective in Barry Levinson’s Steven Spielberg-produced Young Sherlock Holmes back in 1985.