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The game is afoot!
Stories about the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes have been told for over a century. “Enola Holmes” delightfully reorients the narrative around Sherlock’s younger sister, Enola. This Netflix original movie is adapted from Nancy Springer’s young adult novel “An Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of the Missing Marquess.” Director Harry Bradbeer’s adaptation is entertaining, thoughtful, and has a powerful cast, but rarely touches on themes that warrant further exploration.
The story follows the titular Enola (Millie Bobby Brown, who is also credited as a producer), a confident and independent young woman who lives in a world where girls are supposed to learn how to embroider and stand up straight — exactly the opposite of how Enola’s mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) raised her. When Eudoria disappears on Enola’s 16th birthday, leaving only a smattering of clues behind, Enola goes looking for her mother while avoiding her meddlesome siblings: the famous detective Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and the cantankerous politician Mycroft (Sam Claflin). Along the way, she helps out a young runaway lord called Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). Mysteries grow and intertwine as pieces of the puzzle gradually fall into place around this unique cast of characters.
One distinct quality of the film is that Enola breaks the fourth wall to tell much of her story directly to the camera, often by looking right into it to describe her thought process as she deciphers clues, or by giving the audience a knowing look (almost reminiscent of “The Office”). This serves as a very effective tool for exposition, and helps viewers get to know and understand the intrepid young sleuth. Audiences get to share her emotions, from excitement to exasperation. The use of cute title cards and animations between sections also contributes to the lighthearted and fast paced quality of the feature.
Enola’s relationship with her mother is the centerpiece of the movie, and editor Adam Bosman masterfully intercuts flashbacks throughout the story to show the influence of that relationship on Enola. Particularly impressive is a fight scene set in a dark London street that is smoothly cut together with flashbacks of Enola at various ages practicing physical combat with her mother in a sunny English field. The movie also effectively uses classic mystery editing techniques, such as flashbacks to moments where clues were spotted.
Millie Bobby Brown plays a wonderful protagonist — Enola is not quite as iconic as Brown’s Eleven (“Stranger Things”), but here she is a charming and endearing character to root for. One of the great things about Brown is that she exudes her enjoyment of the role — she’s having a great time, and it shows.
Enola is a strong character, and she doesn’t rely on her association with Sherlock to resonate with audiences. It is worth noting that Sherlock is perhaps more successful in “Enola Holmes” as a secondary character than as a protagonist in other films. He maintains a special aura of mystery when he isn’t being explored as the center of the plot. Henry Cavill has joined the ranks of many talented actors (including fellow superheroes Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch) to portray the famous detective, and he brings his own flair to the classic character. His rendition of Sherlock is suave and collected, even somewhat aloof, as opposed to the more eccentric characterizations typically seen on screen. When watching Cavill, one can see the wheels turning inside his head, and believe in the complexity of his intriguing persona — a scene-stealer, to be sure.
At its heart, “Enola Holmes” is a coming-of-age story, empowering viewers to believe that they too can forge their own path in the future. However, the film does touch on some more complicated themes. Set against the backdrop of a progressive voting reform bill, there are a multitude of political questions in the air. In a fantastic exchange with Sherlock, a character named Edith (Susie Wokoma) challenges him: “Politics doesn’t interest you. Why? Because you have no interest in changing a world that suits you so well.” There is also the relevant question of how to best create political change. Is violent protest justified? Should one operate entirely within the system to achieve justice? These are ideas the film alludes to, but disappointingly never expands upon. In the current sociopolitical moment, it is difficult to see these issues pushed to the side.
“Enola Holmes” isn’t perfect: some plot elements are a little ambiguous, and it is occasionally a little exaggerated (“Oh good God,” exclaims Mycroft with disdain. “Feminism!”). But despite whatever flaws it may have, it’s an engaging watch, with strong characters, genuine suspense, and an abundance of heart. The film’s ending leaves the door open for a sequel, and Nancy Springer’s novels provide plenty more source material. Another adventure in the world of Enola Holmes would be more than welcome.
“Enola Holmes” is available to stream on Netflix now. You can watch the trailer here.
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