Producers: Mary Paret, Alex Garcia, Ali Mendes, Millie Bobby Brown and Paige Brown Director: Harry Bradbeer Screenplay: Jack Thorne Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Louis Partridge, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Susan Wokoma, Claire Rushbrook, David Bamber and Hattie Morahan Distributor: Netflix
It’s a good guess that more Sherlock Holmes stories have been written by people following in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle than the detective’s creator ever wrote himself, and spinoffs of various kinds have long been popular as well. This one, adapted from the first of six YA books by Nancy Springer and apparently the start of a Netflix franchise, is one of the better examples.
It’s based on the premise that Sherlock and his older brother Mycroft have a much younger sister named Enola, born to their mother Eudoria when the boys were pretty much grown. In this “origins” tale, set in 1884, Enola (played by Millie Bobby Brown, El of “Stranger Things”), has just turned sixteen. Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) has raised her to be feisty, independent, and skilled in both cerebral pursuits and physical ones. But Eudoria has abruptly disappeared, leaving pompous Mycroft (Sam Claflin) as the girl’s guardian, and he plans to send her off to a traditional boarding school run by Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw) to be trained in the ways of a proper young lady of the time, a scheme that Sherlock (Henry Cavill) goes along with, though with some misgivings.
Naturally Enola—a modern lass (in the twenty-first century sense)—has a mind of her own, and doesn’t intend to be compartmentalized to fit with nineteenth-century expectations any more than her missing mother was. So she goes off on her own, disguised as a boy, to track Eudoria down and discover why she disappeared.
Enola’s search is at the heart of the plot, but it’s joined with another mystery she takes it on herself to solve when aboard a train she meets up with a boy her age, handsome but apparently vacuous Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), who’s on the run as well. His father has just died and he’s inherited the noble title and estate that goes with it, as well as a seat in the House of Lords. But he’s being pursued by a sinister fellow named Linthorn (Burn Gorman) who, it soon becomes clear, is out to do away with him. In the first big action scene, Enola saves Tewkesbury from the assassin by making him jump off the train with her, and they become a sort of reluctant couple. Friendship and puppy love will, of course, gradually emerge as they survive a gauntlet of dangers and setbacks together.
One can be certain that by the end Enola will have unraveled the truth about both mysteries, which turn out to be linked and political in nature, and our heroine’s future is looking up from a progressive direction, since Sherlock decides to take her under his wing, relieving Mycroft of his unwanted duty.
As directed by Harry Bradbeer, the movie is fleet and mostly exhilarating, though he and screenwriter Jack Thorne resort too often to the “breaking the fourth wall” tactic of having Enola address the audience straight=on; the practice amusing the first two or three times, especially since it’s done with a comic wink, but wears out its welcome by the fourth. The picture also looks lovely, shot by Giles Muttgens in gleaming tones that flatter the lovely locations, exquisite production design by Michael Carlin and costumes by Consolata Noyle. (Even the final credits are pretty.) Adam Bosman’s editing keeps things sprightly even if at a bit over two hours the film runs a mite long, while Daniel Pemberton contributes a lively score.
There are a couple of points that could be corrected in future installments. One is that Enola’s technique of solving the riddles that come up in her investigations relies more on accident than deduction; that might derive from the book, though, and perhaps coming more under Sherlock’s influence will improve her methods in any future installments. The other has to do with the fight sequences between Enola and grim Linthorn: they’re awfully brutal and prolonged. Perhaps that’s just the influence of Guy Ritchie’s misguided Holmes movies with Robert Downey, Jr., but it’s something that might bear rethinking.
The overall success of “Enola Holmes” has much to do with the excellent cast. It’s hard to image anyone being better suited to the title role than Brown, even if her manner is more than a bit anachronistic for the nineteenth century; and Partridge makes an excellent partner, both handsome and a trifle goofy. Cavill, Claflin and Bonham Carter represent deluxe casting, as do Shaw and veteran Frances de la Tour as Tewkesbury’s elderly grandmother. Adeel Akhtar is a somewhat odd choice as Lestrade, but one that will perhaps pay off better in the sequels, while Gorman makes a properly menacing villain.
Holmes purists may grumble over the use to which Conan Doyle’s sleuth has been put here, but by now they should be accustomed to the liberties that have been taken with the character over the decades. This is an engaging riff on the Holmes mystique, and the start of what could become an enjoyable franchise.