A witty lead, exciting mysteries, and Edwardian England; who could resist Enola Holmes? Certainly not me.
Millie Bobby Brown stars the titular character in Netflix’s most original production. Enola is the younger sister of the famous Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin). She was raised on her own by her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). But, when Eudoria goes missing, Enola’s world is turned upside down and she is forced to either find her mother or get thrown into a finishing school by Mycroft. Along the way, she meets the Lord Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), a young man who will soon take a seat in the House of Lords following his father’s death.
The charm of Enola Holmes lies not just in Brown’s enchanting performance, though it captivates almost immediately and viewers quickly fall in love with her repartee and individualism. The charm also lies in Jack Thorne‘s screenplay that mixes the earnest with the humorous and adds a healthy dash of adventure. Thorne blends a classic bildungsroman with a mystery that is worthy of even a great detective like Sherlock Holmes.
Enola is certainly a perfect choice for a leading protagonist in contemporary times. She is independent, brave, intelligent, curious, and stubborn. She stands out as easily as she can blend into a crowd. She’s depicted as having an intellect that matches and even exceeds her famous brother. Time and time again, she is forced to make difficult decisions and she makes the choice with both her head and her heart, something that keeps her apart from her colder brothers and even her mother.
The supporting cast around Brown is fantastic. Carter acts as both a guiding light for Enola and a guardian angel, whispering her lessons into Enola’s ear and giving her the strength to survive in a very foreign London. Patridge has perfect tone as Tewksbury, playing up both his privileged young Lord side as well as a softer naturalist with an eye toward the future. He has superb chemistry with Brown and the two are well-matched.
Fiona Shaw appears as Miss Harrison, the uptight and stern headmistress of a girls’ finishing school. The character is barely fleshed out, essentially there to serve as an oppressive force to Enola’s independence, demanding conformity at all costs. However, Shaw is always a treat, even in such a stale role as a school marm. Similar disappointments come in the form of Adeel Akhtar‘s Lestrade. Lestrade has always been somewhat competent as a police officer, but in Enola Holmes he quickly turns into a bumbling villain, twirling his mustache and following orders rather than using his brain.
On the flip side, Burn Gorman‘s appearance as the vicious and determined Linthorn is far more threatening. Perhaps it’s because of the weight behind Lestrade’s name, but Linthorn is often the first to the scene and faces up against Enola in relentless manner. Credit should be given to Gorman’s performance, but this is not exactly an untrod path for the actor, he just manages to be good at it. Susie Wokoma‘s Edith is one of the more exciting characters introduced in the film. A mysterious figure who trains women to fight jiu jitsu, collects banned books, and potentially is a part of a terrorist scheme, it was a disappointment that we only got to visit her character twice. But the interactions with both Enola and Sherlock just left me wanting more of her in the future.
And what about those famous brothers? Cavill cuts a fine figure as Sherlock, but he doesn’t completely convince me as the cold and calculated Sherlock that I know from recent iterations. It’s hard not to compare him against Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Downey Jr.‘s Sherlocks and see him as the odd man out. This Sherlock has thawed considerably from the famous detached genius. Although there is some attempt to tie him to that version of the character, this Sherlock is far more sympathetic.
I often find myself frustrated with the Sherlock character, since he is often aloof, uncaring, and distant, even more so to those he is close with. But, Cavill’s Sherlock seems to quickly strip away these familiar traits. He is forgiving when it comes to Enola, even amiable and friendly. He doesn’t snipe words at Mycroft, and by the end of the film, feels a far cry from the Sherlock Holmes of recent years. Perhaps this is why the Conan Doyle Estate sued Netflix, calling this more emotional Sherlock a connection to the still copyrighted stories published from 1923-1927.
It would certainly line up with Sherlock’s timeline if this is the Sherlock Holmes after his most famous cases. The real Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918, ten years before all women gained the right to vote. This all falls in line with the story of the film where Tewksbury’s one vote is vital to the passing of the reform and Eudoria’s storyline lines up with a push for women’s suffrage.
And after all of that, there’s Claflin’s Mycroft. This version of Mycroft felt the most out-of-line with the canon. One of Mycroft’s key traits is that he is as intelligent, if not more, than Sherlock. He is indispensable to the government and holds an important position. It’s hard to imagine someone as gifted as Mycroft being portrayed as nothing more than a heavy-handed older brother who can’t be bothered to understand his sister or track her down. I’m not asking for an understanding figure, just someone who might match his siblings as he is supposed to.
But ultimately, these gripes are eclipsed by the pacing, writing, and performances of the story. It’s difficult not to be drawn into Enola’s story and root for her. She jumps from disguise to disguise, navigating through society one moment, and defending herself from an assassin in hand-to-hand combat in the next. It’s easy to see how this film can turn into the beginning of a series, especially with the end leaving Enola somewhat freed from the overbearing Mycroft.
Nancy Springer‘s novels explore Enola becoming a private detective who specializes in missing persons, perhaps this is where well see Enola progress to next? I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more films with Enola Holmes as the lead.
Enola Holmes streams on Netflix on September 23, 2020.