With a wit as fierce as her intelligence, Enola’s first case screams out for follow-up instalments to chronicle the further adventures of the plucky, inspirational heroine.
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Sam Calvin, Henry Cavill, and Helena Bonham Carter
Adapted from Nancy Springer’s Young Adult novel series of the same name, “Enola Holmes” details the adventures of the youngest Holmes child, against the backdrop of the women’s rights movement in the early 1900s.
Played by Millie Bobby Brown, Enola is filled with the sort of flighty passion and electric wit that her stoic brothers do not possess. Having been raised by their mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), Enola has been extensively trained in everything from cyphers to archery, though she is sorely underestimated due to her gender. When Eudoria vanishes without a trace on Enola’s sixteenth birthday, leaving almost undetectable clues as to her whereabouts, Enola is the only person who can solve the case. Her quest to determine just what has happened to her mother is complicated by the machinations of her older brother Mycroft (Sam Clafin), who is attempting to enrol Enola in an elite boarding school with a strict headmistress (Fiona Shaw) that will train her to better fit in as a lady in society. Forced to flee to London with Sherlock (Henry Cavill) in pursuit, Enola also stumbles upon a further mystery that threatens the life of Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) that she feels compelled to solve.
Enola certainly has a different level of appeal compared to the usual exploits of her older brother. Even though they share the same surname, the pair couldn’t be more different, and their films more than reflect that. Enola invites the audience in to her world constantly, through her continual narration and fourth-wall breaking glances at camera; far removed from Sherlock’s typical characterisation as unfeeling, dismissive and callous, entirely consumed by his work.
The actual mystery to be solved here is also vastly different. While one is rooted in a sort of personal vendetta, as Enola strives to be reunited with her mother, the methods that she employs and the clues that she looks for are not immediately apparent to the audience. There’s no opportunity for the audience to get ahead of the mystery through subtle foreshadowing, as Enola solves the clues silently and independently. There’s no time for the audience to draw conclusions over how Eudoria has hidden codes, for example, as Enola immediately jumps from anagrams to immediately solving it. It does strip some of the fun out of the pursuit, not to mention the two mysteries happening concurrently muddying the focus throughout.
Though the mystery of Eudoria’s whereabouts takes up a large portion of the setup of the film, it is not as compelling as the film perhaps pretends it is. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that an independent woman in the early 1900s meeting in secret with a bunch of other women who disappears off to London is probably slightly concerned with women’s rights. Ultimately the plot line doesn’t go very far as the film becomes overrun with the plot to assassinate Viscount Tewkesbury, and Eudoria merely briefly crops up again before the end just to confirm that she was off being a suffragette as everybody had safely assumed anyway.
On top of this, the frustrating elements of Mycroft trying to manipulate Enola’s life and force her in a different direction takes over at points, ruining the flow of the mystery solving. As a film it’s safe to say that it’s thoroughly enjoyable, but it’s not because the mystery aspects are especially well portrayed, with so many different through-lines occurring simultaneously. Then again, understandably, a Sherlock film featuring a teenage heroine is going to feature a different, more approachable sort of mystery solving, as it is evidently geared towards appealing to a younger and broader demographic.
Female empowerment runs throughout the movie, and is an ever present undercurrent. Not only do we see Enola reclaim her independence and strike out on her own away from her manipulative and controlling eldest brother Mycroft, but the fight for equal rights for women is made an important plot point. Even though it seems like interpreting the past through a modern lens, it still manages to make it a relatable and relevant issue to the current generation. Unlike “The Abominable Bride”, which saw BBC’s Sherlock take on the Victorian era, the fight for women’s rights is treated with appropriate sensitivity, gravity and dignity, instead of being made to seem like a joke or punchline.
There are many lines throughout the film that seem specifically to signal a person’s control over their own choices and actions. Enola tells us at the close of the movie “Our future is up to us”, while Sherlock reminds both Enola and the audience that, “The choice is always yours. Whatever society may claim, it can’t control you”. Eudoria explains, “You have to make some noise, if you want to be heard”. All of these lines highlight how perfectly geared and apt these statements are even to the present day, despite the time period of the movie itself.
The all star cast are another real draw here, though not all of them are strictly necessary, despite their wonderful performances. Henry Cavill portrays Sherlock as warmer than we have seen before (a matter of massive controversy, might I point out), lending more of a sympathetic ear to his more rebellious younger sister. Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as free spirited Eudoria. Within her you can see the fire and spirit that Enola embodies throughout the movie, while Sam Clafin and Fiona Shaw are wonderful antagonists as Mycroft and Miss Harrison, even though they do detract from the major action too much.
Obviously, the star of the piece is Millie Bobby Brown, who is sublime as Enola Holmes. News of Brown’s talent is unsurprising considering her star turn as Eleven in the massively popular Stranger Things, but “Enola Holmes” really gives her the opportunity to flex her comedic muscles as well. Enola’s relationship with the viewer makes this film almost unique viewing. The way that the entire movie is constructed with her direct addresses to the audience perfectly demonstrate how much more forward thinking she is than her contemporaries, further showing her quick wit and monstrous intelligence.
“Enola Holmes” makes for thoroughly pleasant viewing. It’s not especially clever or challenging, but it possesses a massively likeable lead, heaps of fun and brilliant comedic moments. This film is crying out for a sequel, hopefully one that will provide more interesting and nuanced deductive reasoning, instead of slightly convenient cypher breaking that the viewer feels disconnected from.
Enola Holmes is streaming now on Netflix.