Sir Arthur Conan Doyle probably wasn’t thinking about online streaming services when he created the enduring character of Sherlock Holmes, but the brilliant detective has ended up on one all the same. It’s a mark of progress of sorts, and it’s not the only one present in the new Netflix Original film, Enola Holmes. As the title suggests, Sherlock isn’t even the main character.
Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) is a happy, smart, and playful teenager content with a life being homeschooled by her mom (Helena Bonham Carter), but things take an unexpected turn when her beloved mother goes missing one morning. The curious and concerned teen immediately sets out to find her, but she’s interrupted by the arrival of her older brothers — Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) — who have other plans for their new ward.
If the conflict in Enola Holmes sounds minor that’s by design. This is a YA Holmes adventure offering a soft introduction into the world of literary deduction and professional sleuthing, and Jack Thorne’s script (based on Nancy Springer’s novel) knows its audience. It leans more Robert Downey Jr. than Basil Rathbone in its energy and style, too, with director Harry Bradbeer keeping things vibrant and lively throughout.
Young Enola talks to the camera as if we’re all best friends sharing tales of family woes, annoying romantic interests, and the fun adventures that fill the day, and Brown nails that relationship. She may have come to stardom as the more mysterious and sedate Eleven on Netflix’s Stranger Things, but she finds in an easy footing in the far more personable and dynamic Enola. Brown also shows a great comedic talent, both in her line delivery and physical skills, with some terrifically silly and quick facial expressions to match. She delivers as spunky and likable a YA hero as you could hope for.
As a period piece, Enola Holmes is constrained by the realities of the time regarding class and the sexes and their place in society, but the script weaves through some progressive ideas all the same. There’s a B plot involving a vote to give more power to the people rather than leave it with the elites, and Enola frequently talks about the unfairly sexist attitudes towards women. She’s off on her own adventure and in no need of the distraction that boys bring… until she meets a boy, that is.
It’s hard not to feel a slight character betrayal in the introduction of young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). He arrives on the run from his own life, and while Enola gives lip service to staying on task she very quickly shifts towards his wavy locks instead. Partridge is fine, and he’s made somewhat into a damsel in distress which is refreshing to a degree, but it’s still a romantic intrusion that hurts the film’s otherwise smart and progressive lean.
Male characters can have adventures without having to fall for a woman along the way, but females need romance. They need it like oxygen and water, and without it they’d perish several steps short of defeating the villain, solving the mystery, and completing the adventure. C’est la vie, apparently.
The brief romance is a misstep, but Enola Holmes delivers more than enough elsewhere to make it a forgivable offense. As mentioned, Tewkesbury is kept mostly as a guy in need of rescuing, so while Enola’s romantic feelings are present her actions are in service of saving the boy’s ass rather than coveting it. The adventure brings Enola in and out of London with small action beats throughout including a fun fight scene utilizing flashbacks to her and her mother sparring in the yard. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens does good work capturing it all with bright, colorful life making for an attractive watch, and the visuals compliment an overall tone that feels light and entertaining throughout.
Cavill and Claflin are supporting players here, but both fall into their respective characters with ease. Sherlock in particular feels like a natural fit for the former Superman, and Cavill delivers a confident and charming super sleuth here. His presence is notable, and in shared scenes with Brown’s Enola the two show a playful but respectful familial chemistry. It’s definitely a pairing that will benefit from further adventures.
Happily, Enola Holmes ends on a note suggesting that more is on the way. It’s not a cliffhanger as the mystery here is solved nicely, but it sets up further adventures with the young woman at the forefront. Sherlock is in the wings, always ready to lend a hand or a hint, but the story — and the future — belongs to Enola.