So, another Sherlock Holmes take and it's not the third Guy Ritchie movie? Well, alright then...
Yes, I'm being facetious to an extent. If you read my review of Benh Zeitlin's 'Wendy' back in March (oh how different the world was), I kind of touched on my appreciation of common-use legacy characters and how I mostly don't mind the constant adaptations those characters are often subject to.
In the case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective, yes we might get 'Sherlock Gnomes,' but we also get versions as varied as the aforementioned Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. projects and Ian McKellan's underrated take in 2015's 'Mr. Holmes.' These characters endure across so many incarnations because we still manage to find new and interesting ways to frame their stories.
That brings us to 'Enola Holmes,' based on Nancy Springer's book series and telling the story of Sherlock's kid sister, Enola (backward for "alone"). The 6-book series has garnered some pretty solid critical acclaim, leading Warner Bros. to pursue an adaptation, eventually shifting the rights to Netflix once the pandemic hit.
On its own, I might have been inclined to roll my eyes at something like this, but the more I looked into the film, the more all of the right pieces seemed to be coming together. Millie Bobby Brown absolutely had the potential to be a star outside of 'Stranger Things' ('Godzilla: King of the Monsters' notwithstanding) and the rest of the cast could all clearly hold their own.
Then you bring on writer Jack Thorne (responsible for 2017's 'Wonder,' one of the more underrated coming-of-age movies of the last few years) and Harry Bradbeer, a director coming off some pretty great highs on television between 'Fleabag' and 'Killing Eve;' there had to be something special brewing here, right?
Thankfully, 'Enola Holmes' is a lot of fun, in no small part due to those aforementioned pieces; a script that knows exactly what tone it's going for, a sense of style that is for the most part pretty welcoming, and, yes, Millie Bobby Brown's jubilant lead performance bringing you along for the ride.
Enola Holmes (played by Millie Bobby Brown) is the youngest of the three Holmes siblings, several years younger than the government official Myrcroft (played by Sam Claflin) and the world-famous detective Sherlock (played by Henry Cavill). She lives for several years in the English countryside with her mother Eudoria (played by Helena Bonham Carter), who is responsible for most of her education and teaches her to be extremely observant and active in the world.
One day, Eudoria mysteriously vanishes from their home, with both Sherlock and Mycroft coming to investigate the case and reunite with their estranged sister. While Sherlock admires Enola's tenacity and knowledge, Mycroft doesn't see the same way and, since he is her guardian in Eudoria's absence, attempts to send Enola to a boarding school to be a "proper lady" in society.
Attempting to use her mother's love of word games and ciphers, Enola escapes the family home to London where she meets the Viscount Tewkesbury (played by Louis Partridge), a young man set to become a member of the House of Lords, but has no interest in succeeding his late father. Initially, Enola seems disinterested in him, blending into London society and leaving coded messages in the newspapers hoping to contact her mother. However, when the young man's life is repeatedly threatened, Enola takes matters into her own hands, attempting to crack the case, find out the truth about her mother, and discover her own legacy as a Holmes.
I usually don't start reviews by mentioning the performances, but when your film lives or dies on the merits of your lead, I kind of feel the need to. In this case, make the statement now: if you weren't on the Millie Bobby Brown train before, you need to get on it now. She makes for a fantastic lead in Enola, not just because she has the wit and charisma to pull the character off, but because she actually sells that element of fun through it.
Even in the films more dire moments, we never see Enola break completely, never seeing her succumb to those societal norms and sense of legacy that constantly hold the character in line. Much like her famous brother, Enola is able to constantly evolve and adapt herself and Brown is clearly having a blast with this; solving clues, fighting off bad guys and just being a presence that you can't take your eyes off of. She is the biggest reason that this film works and why I think it'll appeal beyond the source material or any perceived gimmick.
Speaking of the cast, most of them also really work. Helena Bonham Carter (at least when she's on screen) allows us to see the difference between Enola's connection to her and the very real agency that Eudoria is trying to bring to the story. Sam Claflin is, at times, a bit too blatant in his attempts to make Mycroft a certifiable jerk, but he pulls it off nicely.
As for Henry Cavill as Sherlock himself, I'm no Conan Doyle purist so the warmer, more welcoming version of the character didn't really bother me (in fact, I almost like the idea of seeing a Sherlock not so absorbed into his work as of yet). Rounding the main cast out is Louis Partridge as Tewkesberry, who has more than enough charm and character to feel important, but, most importantly, never takes up too much of Enola's attention.
I really appreciated how the film never forces Enola into committing to that potential relationship with Tewkesberry. There's clearly love and care between them, but any time these two are together, it's either to further their own characters/arcs or to add more elements to the overarching mystery. In other words, we're allowed to see the building of that relationship without tempering any of Enola's independence; she's clearly out to find her own destiny and no goofy bureaucrat, no matter how charming, can take away from that.
That's not even getting into the more technical elements that also work pretty well. The movie is excellently shot by 'Hell or High Water' cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, with all the poise you might expect from a Sherlock-era period piece, but with more color and optimism to shine through some of the cityscapes. Harry Bradbeer also directs the film fairly well for a first-time feature, even with more than a few 'Fleabag'-style fourth wall breaks letting us into Enola's methods (I didn't mind that, but I've heard some divisive takes).
The story surrounds some of the early developments of the women's suffrage movement and, for the most part, those stakes do get explored in significant ways. There's an especially precise exchange between Sherlock and Enola's ally, Edith (played by Susie Wokoma), who berates Sherlock for watching the world profoundly change around him with no interest in getting involved because it doesn't suit him. There's several jabs like that scattered throughout the film and I was surprised at just how natural they feel, reinforcing Enola's drive to act as her own agent of change.
Contrary to some of my previous praise, some of the story elements themselves are also where the film starts to get a bit flimsy. There are really two main storylines throughout the film – the revelations surrounding Eudoria's disappearance and the constant threats on Tewkesberry's life – and, by the end of the film, they don't necessarily mesh all that well. There's a distinct point in the movie where Enola's priorities change from one case to the other, almost like the movie kind of shrugs and says "we'll deal with this later."
On top of that, there's also some choices that don't always work; the aforementioned fourth wall breaks, the runtime that goes longer than it really needs to (especially in the middle), and some weirdly violent moment throughout that don't necessarily feel natural to the world they set up. This is to say that, for all of the energy and consistency the film usually has, it isn't always the most well-structured to benefit where it wants to go.
I didn't really know how much to expect from 'Enola Holmes,' but I'm glad my expectations weren't THAT high, as the result really is a lot of fun. It's a good contrast against a lot of Sherlock-adjacent material (some of which, to reiterate, I love) and it cannot be overstated how much Millie Bobby Brown's performance help contribute that sense of relevancy and importance. Whether or not Netflix looks to the book series and turns this into a franchise remains a bit of a mystery (tee-hee), but the quality certainly isn't and this is a good sign of things to come.
Overall, I give 'Enola Holmes' 8/10.
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