Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Studios love mining as much material as they possibly can from existing properties. Especially ones that have already shown an impressive amount of longevity, including popularity in various mediums. However, Netflix’s Enola Holmes does not merely recycle ideas from the Sherlock Holmes stories; it uses them to establish a new protagonist within the same world. Here, the detective is backgrounded in favor of his teenage sister, a burgeoning sleuth in her own right. Enola was not in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She was created for a series of YA novels by Nancy Springer. The movie takes on a personality more fitting of that designation, bringing it much closer to a family adventure than a serious mystery (Enola Holmes is based on the first book, 2006’s The Case of the Missing Marquess). It is light and amusing; fun to watch, even if the screenplay doesn’t quite match the cleverness of its title character.
Sixteen-year-old Enola lives with her mother, who has raised her to be able to take care of herself; something seen as most unladylike in Victorian-era London. When her mom goes missing, and oldest brother Mycroft shows up with plans to reform her, Enola runs off to solve the disappearance, with brother Sherlock following her trail.
Though there is murder and intrigue, things never get dark. The tone is generally upbeat and the pace is pretty fast. Enola Holmes jumps from situation to situation with confidence, charm and the inquisitive spirit of her famous brother. That description works for both the character and the movie. She is a strong, independent young woman, at a time when that was considered a negative. She is expected to be subservient to men in order to land a respectable husband, which she needs if she wants to live a comfortable life, but that is not who she is. That concept is weaved throughout the plot, placed like a roadblock that she uses her intelligence to leap over on her way to investigating two different cases.
The mysteries are slight, mostly lacking in substance. This is not a true “detective movie,” with suspects and clues and whatnot, so much as it is a light-hearted adventure set in motion by an investigation. What makes this entertaining is its focus on its engaging heroine, due in large part to an enjoyable central performance.
Since Enola Holmes relies primarily on its audience taking to its protagonist, casting was key. The filmmakers chose Millie Bobby Brown, a member of the ensemble of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things. She is very likable here; almost a family-friendly version of Sherlock. She is guarded, honest and usually the smartest person in any room. But she can also be kind and vulnerable. She searches for her mother, not for the game, but because she is worried. She helps out a teenage Lord who wanders into her path because she doesn’t think he can survive on his own. It introduces a little more plot than the movie really needed, yet it is useful because it allows her to display the traits of a hero, instead of just a genius investigator. It also clearly positions this as the beginning of a potential franchise.
Despite there being solid support from Henry Cavill as an amused Sherlock, Sam Claflin as arrogant social-climber Mycroft and Helena Bonham Carter as their mother, the success of this production rests on Millie Bobby Brown’s shoulders. She seems more than capable of being a franchise lead. While I certainly hope future installments (if there are any) have more intriguing cases, this proves that its star doesn’t necessarily need one to provide viewers with a pleasant couple of hours in front of their televisions.
3¼ out of 5
Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes
Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes
Sam Claflin as Mycroft Holmes
Louis Partridge as Tewkesbury
Helena Bonham Carter as Eudoria Holmes
Burn Gorman as Linthorn
Frances de la Tour as The Dowager
Adeel Akhtar as Lestrade
Directed by Harry Bradbeer
Screenplay by Jack Thorne