Synopsis – When Enola Holmes-Sherlock’s teen sister-discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.
My Take – I think by now we all recognize the name, Sherlock Holmes. The famous fictional British detective who acted as the main protagonist of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s exclusive work which spanned over four novels and 56 short stories and has continued to be a consistent presence in mass media for well over a century.
Unknown to most the characters also happens to hold the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed human character ever in film and TV history, with 75 different actors bringing their own take on the British sleuth. But did you anyone know Sherlock had a little sister?
Based on a series of YA books by author Nancy Springer, this adaption isn’t one of those incredible films that leaves you mind blown, but the way it is playfully written with plenty of fourth wall breaking from an absolutely entrancing Millie Bobby Brown, this one ends up being a fun little entertainer.
The film actually has a lot going for it, the cast is packed full of excellent actors, the feminist messaging is loud and proud, and the script is witty and fast-paced, albeit pretty predictable in places. Which may prove off-putting to die hard Sherlock fans, however, its winning cast and evocative production design will keep one immersed in its world.
The film’s easygoing and winning vibe is particularly suited to Netflix’s low barrier to entry. While it was originally made for cinematic release, if this is the start of a Netflix franchise, I will happily clicking on whenever the next another installment presents itself.
The story follows Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), the younger sister of Mycroft (Sam Clafin) and Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), who after the death of their father has been under the intensive care of their mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), an eccentric but brilliant thinker and suffragist. Unlike a typical Victorian age woman Eudoria home-schools Enola in literature and strategy games, and trains her in martial arts, while never bothering with skills of embroidery or corset-wearing. For Enola the world that her mother has created around her is enough, never bothering to concern much about the secrets Eudoria may be hiding.
That is until, the morning of her 16th birthday she realizes her mother has disappeared. While her quickly brothers return to take charge, the threat of being shipped off to a finishing school governed by Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw) from Mycroft, is enough for Enola to take it upon herself to go to London by following the clues and the money left behind to find her.
But before she can do that, her plans are waylaid when another runaway, Lord Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge) drops into her life, literally. With bowler-hatted assassins and her brothers on the chase, a maybe-not-quite-useless boy and gunpowder stores drumming up the works, Enola has to keep one step ahead to solve the mystery in front of her.
The script is witty, the cast slightly more diverse than you’re likely expecting, and there are fun references to canonical Holmes elements throughout. Here, director Harry Bradbeer, a two-time Emmy winner for directing episodes of Amazon’s acclaimed series Fleabag, knows how to coax out just the right levels of humor, and emotion and keeps the narrative bright and breezy, soliciting the darkness of the time by contrasting it with the colors of youth that find a life in Enola. With her in charge, even London becomes brighter.
After all, sometimes all it takes is for a woman to stand up, recognize herself, and be rebellious enough to live, often by masquerading and misplacing tools of misogyny to her advantage. Enola is a perfect detective genius for the young viewers of our times (who are clearly the target audience here).
Even her relationship with Sherlock who seems simultaneously guilty for missing so much of his sister’s life, and intrigued by the smart young woman she has become, makes for an interesting addition to the whole story, a sub element which definitely needs to be further explored in future films.
True, the setup is initially way too lightweight and silly, with Enola basically left an early precursor to an Escape Room puzzle by her mother and the unraveling mystery proves just about as long-winded as you’d expect from such a bloated runtime, that is until it cleverly weaves its central mystery around these world changing social movements, a battle for tradition and status quo versus the hunger for progress and fairness.
After all it is set against the political backdrop of the 1884 Reform Act, a bill which sought to expand voting rights in the UK (albeit only to men who met certain financial conditions) with Eudoria clearly being is a suffragette. In that sense, the film, even with its 19th century setting, is a modern story with a 21st century sensibility, embodied within Brown’s plucky heroine who refuses to accept what’s expected of her.
And make no mistake the main pull here is Millie Bobby Brown, and the film benefits hugely from her lively, intelligent and charming performance. The young actor has already proved her mettle in Eleven in Stranger Things, but this fun frolic of a film allows her to drop the serious act and show off her playful side. With just a widening of her eyes or a flicker of an eyebrow, she conveys a whole wealth of emotion. Whenever she breaks the fourth wall, she does so confidingly, truly engaging with viewers. And, while the precocious Enola may have proven irritating in a lesser actor’s hands, Brown keeps you rooting for her brave heroine throughout.
Despite some critics pointing out Henry Cavill‘s Sherlock as the biggest flaw of the film, I particularly enjoyed his take and seriously hope Netflix considers working on a spin-off with him. Sam Claflin continues to amaze with her another head strong performance. Helena Bonham Carter too makes for a believable mother of the three Holmes.
In supporting roles, Louis Partridge, Susie Wokoma, Fiona Shaw, Adeel Akhtar and Frances de la Tour are also quite good. On the whole, ‘Enola Holmes’ is quirky, charming and wonderfully uplifted by Millie Bobby Brown’s sparkling performance.
Directed – Harry Bradbeer
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 123 minutes