Producers: Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Ali Mendes, Millie Bobby Brown and Robert Brown Director: Harry Bradbeer Screenplay: Jack Thorne Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, David Thewlis, Louis Partridge, Susan Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Serrana Su-Ling Bliss, Abbie Hern, Hannah Dodd, Gabriel Tierney, Tim McMullen and Helena Bonham Carter Distributor: Netflix
Unlike his first Netflix film based on a YA book series about Sherlock Holmes’s spunky younger sister, which was a fairly close adaptation of the first of Nancy Springer’s novels “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” Harry Bradbeer’s sequel, co-written by Jack Thorne, contrives a largely original plot featuring the same major characters. It proves an amusing enough period adventure for the targeted family audience, especially tween girls, though some new failings have been added to those inherited from its predecessor.
The screenplay’s conceit is to connect its fictional plot to a historical event—the so-called Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888. Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), attempting to establish her own detective agency, is approached by an unusual client—a girl working at the match factory named Bessie Chapman (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss), who asks her to find her sister and co-worker Sarah, who has disappeared. (Sarah Chapman was, in fact, one of the leaders of the matchgirls’ strike.) She accepts the case—the only one she’s offered—despite opposite from the Chapman girls’ roommate Mae (Abbie Hern), who moonlights as a dancer in a music hall.
Undertaking her investigation, Enola learns that the factory is a very successful operation as a result of switching from red to white phosphorus in the production of their matches, but also that many of the women in its workforce have been struck by a mysterious illness. Following up on what she’s learned, she becomes implicated in a murder and is targeted for arrest by Grail (David Thewlis), a sinister police superintendent.
As a result her work comes to the attention of her brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who since the disappearance of their ostentatiously progressive, feminist mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), also serves as her guardian. He’s working on his own case—one involving a complicated scheme embezzling funds from the Treasury Department run by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles McIntyre (Tim McMullen). As it turns out, the siblings’ two cases are interrelated.
That becomes evident to Enola when she attends a ball where both William Lyon (Gabriel Tierney), the privileged son of the factory owner, and her admirer, the reformist Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), are in attendance, along with a lovely young lady named Cicely (Hannah Dodd), the Chancellor and his assistant Mira Troy (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Everything comes to a head, and all secrets are revealed, after another murder, in a final confrontation backstage in a theatre.
“Enola 2” has many of the same virtues as its predecessor. The performances—by Brown, Cavill, Bonham Carter, Partridge, Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade, and Susan Wokoma as Edith, Eudoria’s suffragette comrade—are again committed and fun, and Thewlis chews up the scenery gleefully as the corrupt cop. The Dickensian milieu of 1888 London (coincidentally, the year of the Jack the Ripper murders) is again nicely caught in the visuals, thanks to production designer Michael Carlin, costumer Consolata Boyle and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens. Adam Bosman’s editing generally moves things along in a sprightly fashion, and Daniel Pemberton’s score is mostly fine.
But things go awry musically when a fight between Enola, Eudoria and Edith on the one hand, and Grail and his corrupt bobbies on the other is accompanied by the stains of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”—a truly tacky choice. That fight itself is too long and violent—as are the others in the film, especially the protracted, and rather ugly, final combat in the theatre. The habit of Enola breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly, a carryover from the first movie, gets irritating. And once again the solutions that Enola and Sherlock come up with seem arbitrary, or at least insufficiently explained for the viewer to follow logically. One could also question the wisdom of twisting the elements of a serious historical event to serve the needs of a pretty juvenile plot.
And yet “Enola Holmes 2,” like the first picture in what will probably be a continuing series, has enough pluses to overcome the minuses. It also includes a clever added sequence that, like the teasers in the Marvel superhero movies, is a reason to watch through the closing credits.