Like Peter Pan and King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes will forever recur in popular culture not only because he’s a timeless character, but also because he is both iconic and in the public domain. Anyone who chooses to can write a story about the great detective and his experiences solving unsolvable mysteries, and so it seems that as soon as the latest one is released, the clock is just reset as audiences wait for the next to come down the pike.
With this context provided, it’s pretty easy to roll one’s eyes at Harry Bradbeer’s Enola Holmes. Hearing the basic set up instantly has you imagining a stereotypical Hollywood pitch meeting where an excited young executive explains to a room veteran colleagues that Sherlock Holmes is totally whack now, and that the new millennium is ready for Sherlock’s spunky teenage sister played by one of the Stranger Things kids. It really does have a Poochie-esque whiff to it – but know that dismissing it is judging a book by its cover. It may seem like a silly little Netflix movie, but in truth it’s an engaging and cute mystery that features Millie Bobby Brown’s most charismatic performances to date.
Rather than being a Hollywood board room creation, Enola Holmes is in actuality based on the first book in a series by author Nancy Springer, and serves as an origin story for the young eponymous protagonist (Millie Bobby Brown), who is the much younger sister of Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill). Being more than a decade apart in age, Enola and her brothers lives don’t really line up at all, but she has had a lovely adolescence all the same – raised and homeschooled by her single mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter).
This sibling relationship changes one day, however, when Enola wakes up one morning to discover that Eudoria is gone – leaving nothing but a few parting gifts. The teenager makes the call to Mycroft and Sherlock for help, but when the former attempts to take legal guardianship and send her off to a boarding school, she instead opts to make an escape of her own and make her way from the family’s home to London.
While in the fast-paced and foreign city, Enola works to not only find her missing mother, but also must deal with the consequences of aiding a young lord names Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) as he too tries to escape the clutches of his family – embroiling herself in a mystery at the same time.
Enola Holmes lets Millie Bobby Brown smile, and it’s fantastic.
Enola Holmes has a few dark turns and a handful of emotional and dramatic moments, but what’s easily most striking about the film is just how joyful Millie Bobby Brown is in the lead role. It’s not all that common for Eleven to crack a smile on Stranger Things, and the action in Godzilla: King of the Monsters starts so fast that we don’t really get to see her character as a normal kid. Watching Enola scramble around in different costumes searching for clues is a new mode for Brown, and a delightful one that demonstrates excellent hidden range.
Audiences will certainly recognize shades of Enola’s big brother in her deduction skills and quick thinking, but she also very much stands independently from her sibling in both energy and story. After all, very different things are expected of a young lady in Victorian England, and there is a great joy watching Brown deflect and ignore societal norms in favor of pursuing her goals and passions.
The mystery at the heart of Enola Holmes isn’t mind-blowing, but excusable.
It’s easy to appreciate Enola Holmes as a family film that is legitimately for the whole family, though there remains the drawback that come from a four quadrant mystery: the plot isn’t given any allowance to be legitimately complex. The movie does play with mature themes that rise naturally out of the story being told, but it also totally telegraphs all of its answers to anyone who has experience watching these kinds of movies and knows all of the tropes to look for.
That being said, the plot is far from stupid and certainly doesn’t feel dumbed down; it’s just simple, and that’s fine. At the end of it all it very much feels like a stepping stone to a series, and that means that there is the potential for complexity to escalate as the movies mature along with the young audience. In that sense, Enola Holmes is exactly what it needs to be.
From Nancy Drew to Harriet The Spy to Veronica Mars, there is a wonderful tradition of young female detectives that Netflix’s new film builds on, and it’s great to see it carry on. Enola Holmes is a character that seems destined to become a target of obsession, and what it shows as far as Millie Bobby Brown’s potential is equally exciting.
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