Enola Holmes (2020)

Since his 1887 debut, Sherlock Holmes has filled every story with his outsized ego and intellect.  He stomps about the topography of Victorian London, tugging at his pipe and dissecting the detritus of criminals with frightening precision.  Many filmmakers have riffed on Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary template with varying degrees of success, but few have shaken things up with the infectious fun and energy of Enola Holmes.   In this version, the venerable detective doesn’t dominate every frame with his brilliance.  That honor instead falls to his intrepid, headstrong little sister.

Based on the young adult books by Nancy Springer, Enola opens with the origins of the iconic Holmes family:  Haughty Mycroft (Sam Claflin) is petulant and snarky, while his little brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) comes across as redoubtably intellectual yet emotionally chilly.  Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) is younger by decades, but already possesses the sleuth-savvy of her siblings.  Eudoria, their eccentric, empowered mother (Helena Bonham Carter), trains Enola not only in history and literature,  but also a host of tomboyish pursuits:  She learns archery, jiu jitsu, and how to make explosives.  Even at sixteen, Enola has the charm and skill of a true Renaissance woman.  

Unfortunately, the fun can’t last forever.  One day, Eudoria vanishes, leaving  a slew of difficult clues in her wake. Enola barely gets a minute to tackle the mystery before her famous brothers stroll in and take charge of the scene.  Mycroft orders his baby sister off to finishing school, much to her vein-popping chagrin.  Enola doesn’t give him the chance:  She collects a few things and sneaks away to London, determined to find her mother and prove that she can be more than society expects from her.  

Along her journey on the lam, Enola meets cute with Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), a dashing young aristocrat on the dodge from his own family.  They bicker and banter and trade dirty looks–I mean, you don’t think they might actually have the hots for each other??  *gasp*  No!  I don’t either.  Anyway, turns out that Duke Cutesbury has a deadly mystery of his own.  And, naturally, Enola deduces that his backstory might have a lot to do with hers.  

There–that’s all you get.  Enola won’t break any brains with its surprises, but I still won’t spoil anything for you.  The filmmakers make sure that getting to the inevitably elementary conclusion is most of the fun.  Enola’s coming-of-age tale gets enlivened with all sorts of gimmickry:  She often breaks the fourth wall, offering snippets of narration and sly winks and smirks right to the audience.  Also, exposition gets souped-up with rickety silent movie intertitles and steampunk-infused cutaways.  This kinda thing usually drowns a movie in its own cleverness, but it actually works well here.  As a story for young adults, these modern flourishes should help the story better connect with its target audience.  

None of that would matter were it not for Brown’s lead performance.  Fans who only know her as the shellshocked Eleven on Stranger Things or through her wasted performance in Godzilla: King of the Monsters will enjoy the range she gets to show off here.  As Enola, Brown is funny, razor-sharp and confident, but also completely relatable.  She has the talent and screen presence to be a durable movie star.  You can bank on it.

Meanwhile, Cavil imbues Sherlock with a surprising moments of warmth and vulnerability.  Some people might not approve of such a turn for Holmes, but it serves the story well.  Since Mycroft is such a one-dimensional git, having a more empathetic Sherlock helps keep the story in balance.  Honestly, the whole cast is rock-solid.

More than anything, Enola Holmes is a lark, a low-calorie mystery that never commits the sin of self-seriousness.  It also proves that stories pitched toward tweens and teens can be funny and smart at the same time.  I normally don’t like it when movies set up sequels, but I didn’t mind it here.  If future Enola installments are as strong as this one, count me in.  

123 min.  PG-13.  (Netflix)

 

 

Author: Todd Wofford

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