Legal settlement clears way for U.S. release of ‘Mr. Holmes,’ a film based on Santa Fean’s book

"Mr. Holmes" stars Ian McKellen as the aging sleuth Sherlock Holmes in retirement. Santa Fe-born writer Mitch Cullin's novel "A Slight Trick of the Mind" was adapted for the screenplay. Courtesy photo

An agreement in a copyright dispute between the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the makers and distributors of a new film based on the British author’s popular Sherlock Holmes character has cleared the way for Mr. Holmes to open in theaters across the U.S. on Friday.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. However, a Santa Fe attorney for the estate, Benjamin Allison, said Thursday a lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to issue an injunction against release of the film has been resolved.

“We have settled in principle and are working out the details,” he said of the case, which court records show is still pending. “The movie and the book are moving forward, and the estate is very pleased.”

The film, which stars Ian McKellen as the retired sleuth living in coastal England after moving away from London, is based on a novel by Santa Fe-born writer Mitch Cullin. The book, A Slight Trick of the Mind, was adapted for the screenplay.

Although most of the 56 Sherlock Holmes stories published between 1887 and 1927 are now in the public domain and fair game for copying, Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., which collects licensing fees on behalf of Doyle’s heirs, claims Cullin’s book took elements from the final 10 works in the series, which are still protected by U.S. copyright law.

Cullin has denied the claim. While acknowledging that he was acquainted with Doyle’s writings, he said his novel, written between 2000 and 2003, was influenced by experiences in his own life.

In online remarks after he was named in the copyright and trademark infringement suit against publisher Penguin Random House LLC, filmmaker Bill Condon, Miramax LLC and Roadside Attractions LLC, the writer called it “an extortion attempt pure and simple, brought on by the desire to make money once the film version of the book came to their attention.”

The lawsuit notes that while he was growing up in Santa Fe, Cullin had access to the comprehensive collection of Sherlock Holmes material collected by his neighbor, the late John Bennett Shaw. The complaint alleges Cullin’s book borrowed traits and details that Doyle developed in his later stories, such as Holmes living in the countryside instead of London, coming to love nature, and developing in his later years “a personal warmth and the capacity to express love.”

Cullin, whose Holmes character faces the end of his days tending to bees with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, responded in a Facebook posting that “the mentorship that my elderly Holmes provides for the boy Roger is based on the dynamic I had with the late Sherlockian John Bennett Shaw.”

Contact Howard Houghton at 986-3015 or hhoughton@sfnewmexican.com.

If you go

What: Opening of Mr. Holmes, a film based on Santa Fe-born writer Mitch Cullin’s book, A Slight Trick of the Mind, about an aging Sherlock Holmes.

Where: UA Devargas Mall Cinema 6 in Santa Fe

When: Friday, July 17; showtimes are 12:30, 3:30, 6:30 and 9:10 p.m.

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