Despite this being a film about Sherlock Holmes, the fact that it's not much of a mystery may disappoint die-hard fans, but as an astute drama it's more than worth a look because Ian McKellen is simply terrific in the title role. This is a much more complex character than he has been able to play recently either in movies (like the X-men and Lord of the Rings franchises) or television (the nutty sitcom Vicious). The film also reunites him with Bill Condon, who directed him to an Oscar nomination in Gods and Monsters 17 years ago.
It's 1947, and Sherlock is 93 years old when we meet him, living on the Sussex coast where he keeps bees and has befriended Roger (Milo Parker), the curious son of his tough-minded housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney). As Sherlock teaches Roger about both beekeeping and sleuthing, he is also trying to work out his final case some 30 years ago, which his mind simply refuses to recall. As he relives it in his mind, rather than through Watson's embellished account, all he can remember is a worried husband (Patrick Kennedy) asking him to follow his wife (Hattie Morahan). In addition, Sherlock is also still thinking about the things he discovered while recently in post-war Japan at the invitation of a fan (Hiroyuki Sanada).
The main story and the two flashback sequences are intriguingly intertwined in Sherlock's mind, offering parallel discoveries that help him piece together events that unfold in all three. It's a clever approach that allows McKellen to dig deep into the character as a man discovering that his mind is fading, perhaps into senility. His take on Sherlock is simply fascinating, a witty detective who has always resisted the fictional depiction of him in Watson's stories. And he's also an ageing man who hasn't lost his childlike curiosity, which makes his friendship with the young Roger surprisingly tender and engaging.
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Gifted runner Shania (Crichlow) lives in a rough London estate, where she trains with a local shopkeeper (Davis). Despite her lack of support, she's one of the fastest athletes in Britain, and qualifies for the team in the run up to the World Championships. She's facing competition from her privileged rival Lisa (Lily James), whose father (Graves) heads up Team GB. Shania is happy running solo and, despite encouragement from coach (Clarke), isn't sure about becoming a team player and joining Lisa, Trix and Belle (Burroughs and Lynch) for the relay event.
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Pinkie (Riley) is a young member of a Brighton gang that becomes rudderless when its leader is killed by rival mobster Colleoni (Serkis). Second in command Spicer (Davis) tries to take charge, but Pinkie starts escalating things, avenging his boss' death in a way that creates a violent tit-for-tat. He also becomes vulnerable to murder charges. As he romances a young witness (Riseborough) to make sure she doesn't say anything, he angers her boss (Mirren) as well as both Colleoni and his righthand man (Hurt).
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Nick (Hassan) is an ex-criminal trying go straight so he can care for his wheelchair-bound mum (Blethyn). But New York gangster Thigo (Jackson), in the grip of the economic crisis, is calling in his loans. Now Nick has 24 hours to come up with ú100,000, or Thigo's goon (Davis) will kill both Nick and his mother. Nick's pal Bing (Dyer) offers to help, and they embark on an odyssey of underground fight clubs, fixed track-betting and drug deals in increasing desperation to round up the cash.
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Cassandra's Dream is Allen's most grim and uncomfortable film to date, surpassing even Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. At least in those films the upper class criminals get away with their deeds and get on with their lives (however psychically diminished those lives may be). Not so in Cassandra's Dream, where two lower-middle-class brothers commit a dark crime (almost a British translation of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) that not only shatters their humanity but also destroys their family ties and much more.
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Vera Drake is no exception to this practice. Set in working-class London in the 1950s, it explores the path of a middle-aged woman who performs illegal abortions to young women in need. Vera (Imelda Staunton) is one of those truly kind-hearted souls who constantly helps out anyone and everyone around her. It's hard to imagine that someone that positive and giving may exist, but her charm and energetic encouragement easily win you over as genuine. She, her husband Stan (Phil Davis), and their two adult children share a cramped but warm apartment together.
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