Full disclosure, I had never heard of Enola Holmes prior to seeing the recent Netflix trailer. It’s a little embarrassing to be honest. How could I not know the teenaged sister of the world’s renowned detective Sherlock Holmes? To answer that blatantly rhetorical question, Enola was created by American author Nancy Springer and was the protagonist in her popular young adult novel series. In my defense YA books aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse.
Nonetheless a big screen adaptation simply titled “Enola Holmes” was greenlit, headed by director Harry Bradbeer of “Fleabag” fame and written by Jack Thorne. Then COVID-19 hit, forcing theaters to close and putting the movie’s release on hold. Enter Netflix who had already worked closely with the film’s star Millie Bobby Brown on their hit series “Stranger Things”. The streaming giant acquired the distribution rights from Legendary Pictures with thoughts of a possible franchise in mind. After seeing “Enola Holmes” I would follow the spirited young sleuth on another adventure in a heartbeat. This is a great way to start a potential series.
Brown is the heart and soul of “Enola Holmes”, playing the title character with boundless energy and just as much grit. Her performance is delightfully charismatic and captures everything from Enola’s playful charm to her rebellious spirit. It should also be mentioned that Brown is really funny, constantly breaking the fourth wall with snarky sentiments, exasperated glances, and chipper narration that feels as though she’s talking with a close friend rather than some nameless audience. This truly is an eye-opening performance, highlighting Brown’s keen handling of dialogue, a surprising physicality, and sharp comic timing that’s rare for her age.
The movie begins with Enola setting up her own story. She tells us how she lost her father at an early age and her two older brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) left home shortly after. That left young Enola and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). The two were extremely close, spending nearly every waking hour together. Instead of sending her daughter to school Eudoria taught Enola herself, bypassing the stuffy traditional lessons for raising a ‘proper lady’. “I was taught to watch, to listen,” Enola explains. “I was taught to fight.”
But on the morning of her 16th birthday Enola wakes up to find her mother missing. Her two brothers are summoned back to the Holmes estate. Mycroft, the cantankerous eldest brother is a bit of a villain in his own right. A slave to an archaic male-dominated way of thinking, Mycroft determines Enola needs a “proper” education. “We need to break her and then build her up,” he barks. “We’ll make her acceptable for society.”
Sherlock, the powerless middle child in the established family hierarchy, sees more in Enola. And while he too is a product of the boys club society, he didn’t become the world’s greatest detective by denying what’s right in front of his eyes. “It’s always there, the truth. You just need to look for it.” And the truth is their backwards-thinking patriarchal world is changing￼ and Sherlock slowly begins to realize his smart and determined sister is an embodiment of that truth.￼ Plus he actually cares for Enola. But Sherlock Holmes doesn’t show emotion, right? Doing so could compromise his reputation or prompt a lawsuit from the Conan Doyle Estate.
Enola will have none of it. She sneaks off on her own, utilizing her own detective skills in hopes of finding her mother. Her adventure takes her to London, crossing paths with a fellow runaway named Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who has his own family baggage to deal with. Meanwhile Enola’s brothers are hot on her trail, looking for their sister but for much different reasons. It all makes for an immensely entertaining high-energy story told mostly through a strong and distinctly female lens.
I’ve praised Millie Bobby Brown and rightfully so, but we also get terrific turns from Cavill and Claflin. Much like Brown, both are given well-written characters￼ who are great straight-faced foils for Brown’s￼ irresistible exuberance. Cavill is particularly good. Not especially known for playing high-emotion characters, he’s a good fit for Sherlock. But he also brings a surprising nuance to a character we’ve seen done multiple times over.
By the end “Enola Holmes” had delivered exactly what I had hoped for. It’s a fun, vibrant, personality-rich adventure soaked in themes of womanhood, self-discovery, and finding your way in the world. Enjoy it for the smattering of action-packed thrills, its sharp sense of humor, the terrific Daniel Pemberton score, and a full cast of top-notch performances. This was a great get for Netflix and here’s hoping we get more Enola adventures in the future. “Enola Holmes” premieres September 23rd on Netflix.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS