Premise: When Enola Holmes (Sherlock’s teen sister) discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.
Based on the YA series of books by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes is a solid period adventure with aspirations for a franchise. Those aspirations are warranted by the performance of Millie Bobby Brown as the titular Enola, sister of the famed Sherlock. Brown’s talent and range continues to impress as she simultaneously does narrative heavy lifting through fourth wall breaking monologues and carries the film’s sense of fun and adventure. The end result is a solid vehicle for the gifted young actress and a fun mystery.
Throughout the film, Enola navigates a multifaceted mystery on her quest to find her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) and evade detection from Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin). The former is distant toward Enola while the latter is more antagonistic. With their mother’s disappearance, Enola becomes Mycroft’s ward and he determines she must be sent to finishing school so she can be a proper lady. It’s a notion that Enola scoffs at and fights against throughout the film.
The feminist theme in Enola Holmes is relentless and plays to good effect thanks to Brown’s strong performance and Enola’s headstrong attitude. It never comes across as message-heavy. Instead, it’s aim is to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of misogyny and societal oppression of women in the days of yore through a 2020 lens. In this regard, Enola Holmes strikes a good balance for modern audiences in its target demographic.
Enola’s adventure causes her to cross paths with young Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who’s at the center of a mystery of his own. With the Lord’s life in danger, Enola finds herself entangled in a much more dangerous and deadly plot than that of her missing mother. The pair work well together. As they uncover the mystery, their dynamic gives Enola ample opportunity to demonstrate her cleverness and dislike for patriarchal societal norms. At one point, Tewksbury attempts to correct Enola when she refers to him as a boy by telling her he’s a man. Enola’s response, delivered with a delightful flippance by Brown, is a simple, “You’re a man when I say you’re a man.”
However, shifting from the search for Enola’s mother to uncover the plot against Tewksbury leaves the film’s plotting a bit scattered. Like the clues her mother leaves behind for her, Enola’s search, Tewksbury’s assassin, and the Holmes brothers’ search for their sister become a bit jumbled together at times. By the home stretch of the movie, it feels like the search for mother Holmes is mostly abandoned in favor of the Lord’s mystery. These separate plot threads do dovetail and the film ends in a satisfactory enough manner. But Enola Holmes still presents itself as a bit disconnected in the lead up to its finale.
As the film is geared toward a YA audience (in particular, young girls), it’s refreshing that the presence of Sherlock in the movie is not a harbinger for a deus ex machina plot device. Henry Cavill plays the detective’s brilliance as something that’s just below the surface that we get glimpses of sporadically in his scenes. This wisely allows the film to follow its heroine without losing focus by playing up one of the world’s most iconic characters. Nor is Sherlock a mentor character for Enola. Instead, Sherlock’s influence is shown organically through Enola’s admiration for and study of him. This is Enola’s story and the film honors that fact well.
A solid introduction to a character with a lot of promise, Enola Holmes is a fun mystery adventure. The film is filled with plenty of shots of beautiful English countryside that are complemented by a propulsive and fun score by Daniel Pemberton. While the plot gets a little too tangled at some points, it wraps up nicely and holds promise for future Enola Holmes adventures.
Enola Holmes premieres September 23rd on Netflix.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.