2020 | rated PG-13 | starring Millie Bobbie Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Fiona Shaw, Helena Bonham-Carter, Louis Partridge | directed by Harry Bradbeer | 2 hrs 3 mins |
Who is Enola Holmes? The creation of author Nancy Springer as spin-off fan fiction of the Sherlock Holmes novels, Enola is the previously unseen secret sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, played here by the charming Millie Bobbie Brown. Enola Holmes is as entertaining, fully realized piece of period filmmaking by a director (Harry Bradbeer) who brings effortless worldbuilding to this kind of English period peace.
Enola narrates the 4th-wall-breaking tale that starts with the men in her family leaving the house, either by death or career, and being raised in a mansion by her wickedly smart and inventive mother (Helena Bonham-Carter). When mother Eudoria disappears one day it brings Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin, unrecognizably good) back to act as her ward. She escapes Mycroft’s attempts to put her in a proper ladies finishing school and goes on the run through the English countryside and industrial London to find her mother, in the meantime getting swept up in the mystery of a young Duke (Louis Partridge) who is also running away from home.
Enola is fun, fluffy little movie that is here to do two things that it does quite well. The first is to be a star vehicle for Millie Bobbie Brown. The role allows her to stretch in ways Stranger Things or Godzilla did not, both as a charming lead and as an action and mystery heroine. She’s good here, carrying the movie. Cavill is also a good playing an understated Sherlock with a warmth for his sister under the surface. Claflin proves again terribly underrated as an actor, a guy who is so often treated like a sex symbol because of Outlander, Claflin is slowly building a chameleon’s resume of work.
The second thing that it does is to be yet another tale of female empowerment in pre-Suffragette London. These movies are starting to stack up now and blend in my memory, somewhere between the Marie Curie movie Radioactive and the Dakota Fanning New York mini-series The Alienist 2019 and 2020 have had no shortage of stories of stories of turn of the century gender power dynamics centered around smart, strong, headstrong women fighting the old guard and Enola’s suffragette storyline is no different. If Enola Holmes in particular feels familiar, it may be because while the original book predates this, we’ve even already seen a version of this story in the Sherlock Holmes universe with Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock episode The Abominable Bride tackling the gender “war that must be lost”.
In Enola the reform is but one of the pieces of a multi-pronged and solid mystery. The larger beats of the story work well, as do some of the action set pieces like a train chase and a fight in a ammunition cache warehouse. The movie is absolutely riddled with flashbacks. It starts with Enola turning to us and piecing together her life to that point, good stuff. Once the plot kicks in and the adventure is on, we should have all we need to know, but the movie is still cutting back to flashbacks to things we haven’t seen but don’t really need to, to things we just saw a few minutes ago as if it doesn’t trust the audience to put any of it together themselves. The movie has a real over-explaining problem. Enola literally tells us that she has her own life after an adventure where she used skills taught by others to get by instead of the movie showing us her arc to independence.
The movie also curiously balances the influences on Enola’s character. She is your modern strong heroine who does what she wants and fights the man, but she’s also very young and naïve having both been educated and sheltered by her mother. While she is pitched as possibly smarter than the Holmes brothers (She has to be, she’s a girl, it’s the Gun Range Surprise trope*), but deductive reasoning is shown to be just a learned ability to decipher her mother’s word puzzles – as well as easily bartering with strangers on the street to just give her their clothes. The movie tries to show Enola deductive in her own unique way that fits this exact situation, that still respects the genius of Sherlock Holmes. She uses much more effort to do something Sherlock deduces almost instinctively, but she arrives at the same conclusion. It’s all very prequely, the setting up of a character for future installments. This is also why the constant flashbacks are such a problem, they almost never let her out from under her mother’s memory to be her own person.
Still, there is a lot of fun here. If you’re a sucker for Victorian London like I am and Holmesian mysteries this will be a low calorie little treat. It’s cute. I’m such a fan of the Stephen Moffat Sherlock series that other modern retellings can’t help but fall in it’s shadow, particularly with the way this similarly shows visual illustrations of Enola working through the word puzzles. I wish Enola Holmes would have forgotten the visually flaired, hyper-edited Sherlock adaption style and done more of it’s own thing. Enola Holmes like Enola Holmes, would be better stepping out of the shadow of Sherlock and making its own way.
*The Gun Range Surprise Trope – For lack of a better, phrase it’s the scene in a movie where the man tries to impress a woman with some sort of manly activity or ranged weapon like shooting a gun or a bow and arrow, isn’t very good with it and hands it off to the women to knock down all the targets or hit the bullseye much to his and supposedly the audiences surprise. She is either explained as inherently good at it or had a parent in the military who taught her.