Enola Holmes is the joy we needed from 2020. Watching the trailer, it seemed like we were getting a lighthearted version of a Sherlock Holmes detective story; instead the film lands in charming waters but manages to provide some deep undercurrents in regards to its feminist and revolutionary backdrop.
Millie Bobby Brown is of course the bow that ties this altogether. Without her as the titular character, this film wouldn’t work. Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) Holmes. She grew up without knowing them very well, in a large house with her mother (Helena Bonham Carter), who taught her many things, but most importantly, the importance of words and how you use them. After her mother seemingly disappears overnight, her brothers return to take on the case while finding Enola a finishing school to attend, as she is not a “proper lady.” But with her brothers refusing to include her in solving the mystery, Enola follows the clues her mother left behind and sets off on her own adventure.
With quick-witted narration from Enola, speaking directly to the camera and winking at it at other times, the film takes on a breezy and jaunty pace, the call to adventure rooted in every frame. In the search for her mother, Enola gets sidetracked by a different case involving a 16-year-old lord named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), who’s on the run from a mysterious man in a bowler hat trying to kill him. As this film expands on the Holmes canon, Enola, in stark contrast to Sherlock’s own detective skills and aloof manner, provides a more altruistic and caring Holmes detective as she abandons her search for her mother to help Tewkesbury and solve who’s put the hit out on him. There’s also enough emphasis placed on Enola and Sherlock’s differing deductive skills that makes the mystery solving feel like a fresh look at a typical Holmes case.
The backdrop of this film revolves around a reform bill that would allow women the right to vote. Even though it never quite dives deep enough into the actual details of the bill itself, the attitudes of the time are quite present throughout, especially in Mycroft and Sherlock, who dismiss their own mother’s radical ideals as flights of fancy. Some of the dialogue can be a bit too on the nose at times, but the earnest idealism of the film is part of its charm, again mostly expressed through Brown’s performance. Still, the historical context grounds the film even more, making the stakes feel even more profound.
As for Sherlock, this is probably one of the more empathetic portrayals of a character, who is often cited as aloof, logical, selfish, and unfriendly. Cavill brings some of that to the character, but as this is a story about Enola Holmes, Sherlock has to be different than the Sherlock of other adaptations, and for that, this is a nice variation on the character. He still feels like a Sherlock, in any case, even without a Watson by his side.
There are also plenty of new and old characters that fill this new but familiar world, making the idea of a potential sequel exciting. Enola is only just at the start of her detective adventures, following in her brothers footsteps but also carving out her own place in the world and in the Holmes canon.
Enola Holmes is now streaming on Netflix.