March 2024

Enola Holmes (2020)

Enola Holmes Teaser Unites Millie Bobby Brown & Henry Cavill on Netflix  This September

DIRECTOR: Harry Bradbeer

CAST: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Susie Wokoma, Frances de la Tour


An adaptation of the first of a series of Sherlock Holmes spin-off novels by Nancy Springer inventing his younger (but equally deductive) sister Enola, Enola Holmes is a thin but breezy YA mystery-adventure that works almost in spite of itself. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes mysteries might be unimpressed by what amounts to YA spin-off fanfiction, but for those who aren’t too demanding, it’s a slight but charming diversion carried by a delightfully effervescent lead performance by Millie Bobby Brown.

Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) is the (much) younger sister of famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) along with stuffy government official Mycroft (Sam Claflin), but the age difference and her brothers’ busy lives (and disinterest) has left her with little connection to them, being raised in the family manor by their unconventional mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who trains her in, among other things, history, word puzzles, cryptography, chemistry, and hand-to-hand combat. But when Eudoria disappears without a trace—almost—Enola proves she’s got the Holmes nose for a mystery. Escaping the clutches of her eldest brother Mycroft and the stern headmistress (Fiona Shaw) of the boarding school he wants to ship her off to, Enola sets off seeking her mother’s whereabouts in London. But along the way she gets sidetracked into another mystery involving the young Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who’s on the run himself and being pursued by an assassin (Burn Gorman).

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When it comes to the mystery(ies), Enola Holmes lacks the plotting of a true Sherlock Holmes adventure. Enola does some Sherlock-esque deciphering of coded messages in newspapers and the like, but it’s all fairly simplistic stuff, and despite a half-hearted red herring, the revelation of the “surprise villain” is predictable. An exchange between Sherlock and Susie Wokoma’s Edith feels self-consciously inserted as timely social commentary speaking more to 2020 than 1884 (as does the, given the time period it’s set in, unlikely casting of Pakistani-British Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade). The presence of Sherlock Holmes is a problematic aspect; the iconic character casts a long shadow that Enola has to get out from under. Additionally, while this might not have been as much of an issue were his appearance limited to a cameo, having Sherlock have a decent-sized supporting role and pop up sporadically throughout builds expectations that he’ll play some significant role in the plot, setting viewers up for a bit of a letdown when that doesn’t happen. But Enola Holmes compensates for its obvious shortcomings and limitations with an abundance of plucky charm, embodied in Millie Bobby Brown who gets to shine in a way she hasn’t had the opportunity to do outside of Stranger Things (certainly not in her thankless role in Godzilla: King of the Monsters). Brown isn’t just the glue that holds the movie together; she carries it on her back with enough charisma and assurance to coast along over its flaws by imbuing Enola—and the movie by extension—with an almost impossible-to-dislike rambunctious energy. Brown is so delightful that she even makes the potentially annoying affectation of breaking the fourth wall and making sarcastic asides directly to the camera seem charming instead of eye-rolly.

Brown dominates the movie, but she’s backed up by a colorful supporting cast. Louis Partridge is likable and generates a nice chemistry with Brown that’s somewhere between “buddy movie” and romantic tension. A toned-down (by her standards) Helena Bonham Carter is her usual delightful self, although considering she’s basically the human MacGuffin, she doesn’t have a lot of screentime outside of flashbacks. Sam Claflin gamely downplays his “heartthrob” persona behind a mustache and a stick-up-his-ass demeanor as the dislikable Mycroft. Onhand in smaller roles are Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade, Fiona Shaw as the stern Miss Harrison, Susie Wokoma as fight instructor Edith, Burn Gorman as the assassin, and Frances de la Tour (together with Helena Bonham Carter and Fiona Shaw, the third Harry Potter alum onhand) as the Viscount’s grandmother. Alas, the most “off” note in the cast is struck by its biggest “name”, Henry Cavill, who’s all wrong for Sherlock Holmes, too handsome, too physically imposing (his burly frame bulging out of his suits), too warm and laidback, and not convincingly projecting himself as an intellectual (the movie also drops the ball with Sherlock’s ostensible powers of deduction and observation on a few occasions, possibly to avoid him overshadowing Enola, though in fairness that’s more a screenwriting than a performance issue). Cavill says “hunky action hero”, not a neurotic, abrasive, anti-social genius, and lacks the requisite character traits. This is a Benedict Cumberbatch kind of character—literally so in his lead role on the television series Sherlock—not a Henry Cavill one; Cavill is charming enough in his own right, but he’s not Sherlock Holmes.

The movie feels like the first film of a planned series or perhaps, given its fairly modest aims, the pilot of a television series. While the actual mystery/adventure is a bit slight in and of itself, the movie imbues it with enough energy and charm to coast along in spite of its own limitations. Production values and period details are solid—Victorian London is believably recreated, albeit without the stylish flair of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films—and there’s a couple action sequences mostly involving tussles with the assassin (who’s played by a suitably creepy-looking Burn Gorman but doesn’t come across as particularly efficient at his job), although none of them are especially complex or memorable. The “main” mystery is wrapped up, but the secondary (depending on how you look at it) is left open-ended enough to provide a plot direction for a sequel. Whether it will be received well enough to generate a continuation of the adventures of Enola Holmes remains to be seen; as origin stories go, it efficiently establishes the character and sends her on a sufficiently engaging adventure, and Millie Bobby Brown makes the heroine eminently likable enough that I wouldn’t mind reuniting with her, but there’s room for improvement and going bigger and better—and with a better mystery worthier of the name Holmes—in a follow-up.

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