In an industry whose cup has long runneth over with adaptations and reboots, there comes the inevitable question – what about some original content, eh? And to that, Netflix says ‘why though?’
Enter Enola Holmes, Netflix’s adaptation of Nancy Springer’s non-canonical series about Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister. Of course, Sherlock enthusiasts would know that this isn’t the first time that a Holmes sister has been brought to the screen – Eurus Holmes did send many an icy East wind down everyone’s backs in 2017. However, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan watching the movie to find out more about where he came from and his possible motivations, it’s probably best to head back to the discussion rooms and the endless wait for Season 5 – Enola Holmes keeps the focus firmly on Enola and Enola alone.
The titular Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) has been raised solely by her brilliant, rather unconventional mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who named her daughter Enola because it reads ‘alone’ backwards. The two are anything but, however, sharing a close bond while the much older Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) lead their own lives in London.
The plot begins with Enola waking up on her 16th birthday and discovering that her mother has vanished without a trace. Her brothers are called in to help, but Mycroft, mortified at Enola’s criminally unladylike upbringing, decides to send her away to that graveyard of many a free spirited Victorian girl – finishing school. That is the last straw for Enola, who takes matters into her own hands and decides to go it all on her lonesome. Enola does spell alone in reverse, after all. Along the course of her sleuthing, she also makes friends with a ‘useless boy’, the Viscount Lord Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge), who comes with his own share of intrigue and mystery.
As the plot switches between landscapes, Giles Nuttgens’ breathtaking cinematography paints a stark picture between the lush, serene English countryside and the multiracial, claustrophobic, and gray streets of London. This of course is complemented by Daniel Pemberton’s lively score, a worthy match for the sprightly Enola.
When it comes to the performances, there is little doubt that Millie Bobby Brown (who also served as producer) carries the entire film from start to finish. Charming, witty, and wonderfully self aware, Brown’s portrayal of the teenage detective shines best when she is alone, which, coincidentally, spelled backwards is Enola! If you think the references to this little word play are getting a bit much, I must warn you that the film mentions it a couple more times than I have.
Louis Partridge as Tewksebury plays off her nicely, and the two share an easy chemistry that is a delight to behold. Sam Claflin portrays Mycroft as the script demands – as a rather violently chauvinistic true-blue Englishman, resentful of his siblings’ gifted intellects, and sadly devoid of much character depth. Sherlock (whose portrayal has been controversial because he was shown as ‘emotional’) is played by a hunky Henry Cavill, who does little except smile and show up everywhere one step behind his sister. Helena Bonham Carter brightens up the few frames she’s in, to the extent that you wish the film gave her more screen time and plot resolution than it did.
What keeps the film from being truly entertaining is the rather unwieldy screenplay by Jack Thorne, which leans heavily towards the ‘tell’ side of the show and tell dichotomy, and struggles towards the end with patching both storylines together for a slightly out-of-tone ending. The film could also have done with a little less of Enola’s incessant running commentary, which at times feels like the audience needs to have things explained to them in case they can’t keep up.
Director Harry Bradbeer, also known for his work on Fleabag and Killing Eve, decides to rely on breaking the fourth wall for this film as well. Although Millie makes it work for the most part, in translating the technique for a film aimed at a much younger audience than Fleabag, there are times when one can shut their eyes and hear a whiter, more badass Dora the Explorer. “Do you have any ideas?” Enola asks the audience, mercifully deciding not to wait as long as Dora does for an answer.
From a broader perspective, however, Enola Holmes is a fun, fast paced film whose tween target audience would enjoy too much to care about its finer cinematic nuances. It was high time Nancy Drew got a companion in the badass female detective genre, and for that reason alone, Enola Holmes is worth watching.
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Enola Holmes is a beautifully shot, well acted film that suffers from an identity crisis and rather uneven, competing storylines.
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