BERLIN (Reuters) - Ian McKellen transformed himself from Gandalf into a nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes for "Mr Holmes" shown in Berlin on Sunday, giving the veteran British actor a chance to portray one of England's most treasured characters.
McKellen, making his second movie with Bill Condon, said he had leapt at the opportunity to work with the American director, with whom he last filmed in 1998 in "Gods and Monsters", and at the opportunity to portray Holmes.
"He's one of the great Englishmen and he never lived -- it's astonishing," McKellen said at a news conference after the movie was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Based on the Holmes spin-off novel "A Slight Trick of the Mind" by Mitch Cullin, the film, like other new iterations of the detective stories, picks up where Arthur Conan Doyle left off.
This one finds Holmes in retirement in the English countryside where he lives as a recluse, tending bees and looked after by a middle-aged woman, widowed when her airman husband was shot down during World War Two, and her son Roger.
Partly because of Roger's curiosity, the aged detective, who is losing his memory, tries to recall the details of a case involving a beautiful young woman whose husband had asked Holmes to track her movements. Her fate has troubled him ever since, and led him to give up detective work.
Condon said the project had been 11 years in the making and he had persisted because he wanted to work with McKellen again and because he believed in the script.
"It was such a delicate and beautifully told story and I have to say, too, secretly for 17 years I've been reading scripts constantly imagining that I could work with Ian McKellen and suddenly there is this script," he said.
American actress Laura Linney, whom McKellen complimented on her English working-class accent, said the setting in 1947, with part of the plot taking Holmes to war-ravaged Japan in search of a cure for his amnesia, gave it an extra dimension.
"She's a war widow from that period of time and the impact that the war has on everyone in this film is the sort of unspoken earthquake underneath the story," Linney said.
Child actor Milo Parker said he'd been thrilled by the opportunity to work with McKellen.
"I learned a lot from Ian on the basis that he's a really nice man and he's also an amazing actor and he's Gandalf," Parker said.
(Editing by Stephen Powell)