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.
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Susie Wokoma
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Running Length: 123 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: I think we can all agree that by this point, that sly detective Sherlock Holmes has had his fair share of the spotlight in movies and television shows. If you run a search for Sherlock Holmes in IMDb you’re going to get a truckload of results…and that’s only those with his name in the title. Think of the all the movies with Holmes as a leading or secondary character that take the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation into numerous different directions, some for the good (1979’s much liked Murder by Decree) and many for the bad (take your pick but 2018’s ghastly Holmes & Watson springs to mind). The brilliant reimagining for the BBC in 2010 made Benedict Cumberbatch a star and the big-budget 2009 film and it’s gargantuan sequel in 2011 solidified Robert Downey Jr.’s A-List status in stone.
So if Sherlock was considered played out, how to further the Holmes lineage in new and interesting ways? The answer came in the form of six books written by Nancy Springer that followed Enola Holmes, Sherlock’s much younger sister. Raised solely by her mother after her father’s death, both Sherlock and his brother Mycroft were out of the house by the time Enola was born, leading the now teenage girl to grow up not really knowing her siblings. Springer’s books were published between 2006 and 2010 and now the first one has been adapted into Enola Holmes, a film originally intended for release by Warner Brothers this past summer that was eventually bought by Netflix on account of the pandemic. If this origin story and initial adventure is any indication, Netflix has scored a win with a promising new franchise on their hands.
On the morning of her 16th birthday in 1884, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobbie Brown) discovers that her ever-present mother (Helena Bonham-Carter, Cinderella) has vanished from their sprawling and overgrown country home outside London, apparently leaving no clue as to where she’s gone. As Enola’s only companion, teacher, and guardian, this is a puzzlement as it’s not like her to just disappear without a trace so Enola sends word to her brothers in the city who arrive in short order. Stodgy Mycroft (Sam Claflin, Me Before You) isn’t surprised their flighty mother took off, begrudgingly accepting the responsibilities for taking in Enola as his ward. The more laid-back Sherlock (Henry Cavill, Justice League) likely has already figured out where she’s gone and how tight her shoelaces were tied when she left but defers to his more tightly-wound brother in the decision-making process.
Enola, however, can’t wait around forever and when Mycroft attempts to ship her off to a boarding school run by a perilous headmistress (Fiona Shaw, Pixels, a brittle riot) she sets off on her own after making a hidden discovery that points her in the right direction. Along the way, she crosses paths with the Lord Viscount Tewskbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge, Paddington 2) , a young runaway she assists in evading a treacherous henchman (Burn Gorman, Pacific Rim) dispatched for murderous purposes by someone close to the boy. Not letting herself be distracted by another mystery when she has her own familial problem to solve, Enola continues to track the disappearance of her mother, which may have ties to the growing women’s suffrage movement.
With Jack Thorne’s (Radioactive) script often episodic in nature, the film tends to resemble the chapter book it’s based off of, with tiny little adventures or plot advances happening in small chunks throughout. It gives the entire film, which is by and large entirely delightful, an ever so slight stutter and never lets it achieve a smooth ride. Director Harry Bradbeer makes his feature film debut after years of building a respected career in television and he uses that history of handling short form storytelling to bring a liveliness throughout, even if it often lacks true connectivity. It’s a handsome production, with the period recreated beautifully in the sets and reflected faithfully by the costumes.
With only Netflix’s Stranger Things and last year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters as the majorly significant items on her resume, I haven’t yet hopped on the Millie Bobbie Brown train yet but I’m willing to buy a ticket after this. It’s a role perfectly suited for her and she delivers the right amount of spunk and heart, never making Enola too coy or aggravatingly precocious but finding the exact right balance that makes her come alive. Much of the movie involves her speaking directly to the audience and it wouldn’t have worked as well if Brown didn’t have the right attitude, but whether it be a glance at the camera or lines delivered straight out to us, she really commands your attention.
Acting as a producer of the film as well, Brown has wisely surrounded herself with a nice array of talented supporting players, from Bonham Carter playing pitch perfect as her mother with a hidden life we only just start to skim the surface of to Frances de la Tour (Into the Woods) as the Lord’s grandmother who takes a liking to Enola. Claflin’s role is rather humorless so he’s stuck with a bit of a downer part, the most villainous non-villain in the film and he’s playing the brother supposedly seven years older than Sherlock…even though he’s three years younger than Cavill. Cavill is an inspired choice for Sherlock and while the film has made news lately for being named in a lawsuit by the Conan Doyle estate for showing Sherlock as “too emotional”, I didn’t find Cavill to be overtly emo more so than Cumberbatch or Downey, Jr. It’s wholly Brown’s circus, though, and even Cavill playing the world’s leading detective can’t steal her spotlight for any amount of time.
At 123 minutes, this a long film and while it may entice younger viewers and parents might find the opening 80 minutes to be fairly light, there’s a dark turn as we get to the home stretch that I wasn’t quite expecting. It is rated PG-13 and earns it in that final half hour when things get violent and scary in ways I’m not sure were entirely necessary, especially for a movie hoping to build into future installments that parents could confidently leave their children in the care of. That being said, for mystery lovers in general and especially those that like the Sherlock Holmes film adaptations that strayed with cheeky humor from the original Conan Doyle tales, you’ll want to see the first adventure of his sister because Enola Holmes is just getting started.