Detective Sherlock Holmes has been solving mysteries ever since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned A Study in Scarlet in 1887. He’s been immortalized in novels, theater, television, and film, including recent iterations starring Robert Downey, Jr. (2009’s Sherlock Holmes) and Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock series, 2010). Does the world really need another Holmes? Netflix’s charming new mystery, Enola Holmes, makes the case.
Enola Holmes is based on the YA book series The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer. It tells the story of Enola Holmes, the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, the former of whom is already famous by the time our story starts in 1884. After her father dies and her brothers leave home, Enola is left with her beloved but eccentric mother, Eudoria, at the family’s country estate. Then, on the morning of Enola’s sixteenth birthday, Eudoria disappears. Enola must follow her trail of clues and set out on an adventure to find her. The plot thickens when she meets Viscount Tewksbury, a runaway Marquess pursued by a mysterious assassin in a bowler hat. The game is afoot.
Millie Bobby Brown stars as the titular character and serves as a producer. You likely saw her acting chops as Eleven in Stranger Things (or perhaps in last year’s Godzilla King of Monsters, her film debut), but Enola gives Brown a chance to show off her infectious charm. A verbose character, Enola has a lot more to say than “friends don’t lie,” and she says it with sass, spunk, and personality to spare. The film sits squarely on her petite shoulders, and she makes carrying it look like a blast.
Brown performs directly to the audience, frequently looking into the camera. If this is now the signature of director Harry Bradbeer — who used the same device in Fleabag — I’m not mad about it. The direct addresses in combination with scrapbook-style montages showing the inner-workings of Enola’s mind and beautifully designed costumes and sets result in visual storytelling that’s a pleasure for the eyes. The ears are in for a treat, too, with a playful score composed by Daniel Pemberton (who I recently praised in my review of Rising Phoenix).
The supporting cast is comprised of Henry Cavill as Sherlock, Sam Claflin as Mycroft, Helena Bonham Carter as Eudoria, and relative newcomer Louis Partridge as Viscount Tewksbury. Susan Wokoma is memorable as Edith, a friend of Eudoria’s who boldly calls out Sherlock’s male privilege, placing the story in the context of the women’s suffrage movement in England, a theme which weaves throughout the narrative. Cavill’s take on Sherlock is understated and fairly forgettable, but it’s surprisingly refreshing to see the character take a back seat. I’d feared Enola Holmes would simply take the Sherlock character and make him a teen female — 221 B Baker Street but pink. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. Enola introduces us to a new hero while staying true to the spirit we’ve come to expect from a Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes has always been extraordinary. Besides his intellect (a trait Enola shares), Sherlock is famous for his social ineptitude. He doesn’t fit in, and every Sherlock Holmes account celebrates that. Enola Holmes takes that concept and applies it to a teenage girl coming of age. Mycroft is appalled to see Enola sans hat and gloves and promptly arranges to send her to finishing school to become a “proper lady” and attract a husband. “A wild, dangerous woman brought up a wild child,” he warns the school headmistress. Enola is criticized at every turn, from her body to her independence. Like Sherlock, she doesn’t fit in with society. She is very much her own character, and she, too, is extraordinary.
Enola Holmes is a perfect example of what happens when a well-written character is treated with love. Even as the film balances Enola’s quest to find her mother with the plot surrounding Viscount Tewksbury, it never loses its heart. Is it a flawless masterpiece? No. But it’s an easy movie to recommend to just about anyone. Enola Holmes has plenty to keep adult viewers entertained but, as much as I like it, I have a feeling kids will appreciate it even more. The PG-13 rating and Netflix release make it easily accessible for families to enjoy. So next time you’re faced with the mystery of What to Watch Tonight, consider the case closed. How? Elementary, my dear reader.