McKellen the latest in long line of Sherlocks

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He has been an action hero and an eccentric genius.

Next up for the Ian McKellen treatment is iconic detective Sherlock Holmes, whom the actor portrays as an irascible pensioner trying to tie up loose ends.

Bill Condon's Mr Holmes, premiering out of competition at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival on Sunday, tells the story of the sleuth's final years in the English countryside, where he is haunted by regrets over his last case, 35 years before.

The movie sees McKellen, 75, playing Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional hero over several decades, starting after World War I, when he is still working with his trusted assistant Dr Watson, until the final days of World War II when he is in his 90s.

Ensconced in a well-appointed house with an extensive library, Sherlock shares the estate with his beloved apiary, his war-widow housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her precocious young son, Roger.

Sherlock and Roger strike up an unlikely friendship, as the boy bombards him with questions about his younger years and the case that ended his career involving a suicidal woman who loved him and was spurned by him.

McKellen, who said he had played more than 250 roles on stage and screen, called Sherlock "a part and a half".

"He's one of the great Englishmen and he never lived - it's astonishing," he told reporters after a press screening.

"Of course, I always think that Gandalf is really an Oxford professor who puts on a false beard to go and meet small people," he joked, referring to his recurring wise wizard role in the Lord Of The Rings franchise.

Milo Parker, who played young Roger, said he received on-set training from McKellen.

"I learnt a lot from Ian. He's a really nice man and he's also an amazing actor - I mean he's Gandalf," he said.

Condon said he was drawn to the story by novelist Mitch Cullin for his fresh take on Sherlock, portrayed as a celebrity in his day who opts to move about London incognito.

"I actually loved the conceit that there is another Sherlock Holmes, the one that we don't know - the one who didn't smoke a pipe, who didn't wear the deerstalker hat," Condon said.

McKellen, who earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Condon's 1998 film Gods And Monsters, said Mr Holmes showed a "constant tension" between the dazzling sleuth and the lonely old man.

He said the film's depiction went deeper in exploring the inner life of Sherlock.

"The reward of playing this Sherlock Holmes is to imagine that he had an experience that he never had before - you can call it love, the possibility of changing his life," he said.

"It reminds me of moments in my life where, had I said yes or no, what would have happened?

"Hopefully, I won't have these moments of doubt and hopefully, most of us manage to say yes when we should. Sherlock didn't."

He praised Linney, an American actress, for her portrayal of an English war widow, saying it meshed with his own painful memories of that era.

"As I'm old enough to have been alive when Sherlock Holmes was alive, just after the war, you carry all the greyness and the misery that that dreadful war brought us," he told her.

The Berlin film festival is on till Sunday.

 
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