In the early 2010s, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes became something of a pop culture phenomenon. We saw multiple iterations of the character appear on-screen. There was Robert Downey Jr’s eccentric, silver-tongued brawler. Arguably, he was more Jack Sparrow than detective if we’re being book accurate. Then, there was Benedict Cumberbatch’s legendary portrayal of the character. The stoic, emotionally-distant genius looking for stimulation and purpose. Followed by a less than remarkable Americanised version of the character with Jonny Lee Miller in “Elementary”.
After some time, it seemed like this well was tapped thoroughly dry. We’ve seen our fill of fast-talking detectives, camera zoom-ins and analytical commentary. Then came a fresh and interesting approach to the concept of the detective, based on Nancy Springer’s books. What if we went on an adventure through the perspective of Sherlock’s younger sister, Enola Holmes? A novel concept for sure but let’s see if the film truly has anything meaningful to add to Doyle’s mythos.
If you’re coming into Netflix’s “Enola Holmes” expecting a faithful retelling of one of Doyle’s classic, or at least a modern revision of it, you won’t find it here. The plot of the film feels more line with something out of a “Lemony Snicket” novel than it does a murder mystery or crime thriller.
When Enola’s mother disappears, she contacts her older brother Sherlock and Mycroft for aid. There’s just one problem, neither of them is being particularly helpful. The eldest Mycroft, resentful of their mother, is far too preoccupied in trying to remove Enola from the picture than to aid her. Sherlock, on the other hand, is hesitant to disrupt his carefree lifestyle of being a famous detective and therefore does not want to be responsible for Enola. Like any good, young protagonist though, she sets off on her own to find her lost mother.
Along the way, she gets up to all sorts of misadventures. Things become particularly dangerous when she gets wrapped up in a conspiracy involving a dashing young marquess, the Viscount Lord Tewksbury. There are murderous forces at play and it’s up to Enola to save the day.
For the most part, “Enola Holmes” is a fun, little romp all around. It’s got all the heart and spunk you’d come to expect from your typical YA novel adaptation. Unfortunately, the film’s plot isn’t terribly original. Some of the plot beats can be seen a mile away along with a predictable romantic arc involving Enola and the marquess boy. The glue that holds the whole film together is the pacing.
Unlike other adaptations such as “The Darkest Mind” or “Divergent”, the film spares us the monotony of endless exposition. The world of Sherlock Holmes is a pre-established one and thankfully the film treats it as such. It drops us right in the middle of the action and it blazes off to the races. This approach has its detriments as well. Part of what makes “Enola Holmes” so cheery and fun is the film’s writing.
Much like Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”, there’s plenty of snappy dialogue and witty banter to go around. The majority of the zingers come from Millie Bobby Brown’s Enola of course. Where the film falters is in its attempts at creating dramatic stakes. The central conflict of the film is centred around Enola’s struggle for independence.
The patriarchal oppression of English society is typified in her eldest brother, Mycroft. A foil who is as bland as he is simpleminded. It is disappointing to see the film ruin one of the most interesting characters in Doyle’s Sherlock mythos. All for the sake of conflict and contrivances.
The film is at its absolute worst when it makes ham-fisted attempts at social commentary about feminism and gender inequality. The most egregious transgression being Enola’s Jujitsu teacher who gives a whole schpeel about the evils of patriarchy. There are more nuanced ways to get this message across. Certainly without having to grind the film to a screeching halt.
Without a doubt, the film benefits substantially from its lead actress. Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things” fame has gone a long way from her days as El. Admittedly, we had our doubts about her acting range with films like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”. With “Enola Holmes”, though, she’s proven that she can carry a film. Her portrayal of the character is as charming as it is heartwarming. In lieu of Sherlock’s dismissive machismo, she brings a wide-eyed spitfire sense of wonder to the world. She makes you feel like a kid again, in all the right ways.
There is a price for this, however. The film seems to have sacrificed the rest of the characters’ development for Enola. Seriously, they seem to only exist to give her trouble or make her look good. Particularly, the men in the film. If you’re hoping to see Henry Cavill shine in his role as Sherlock, you will be sorely disappointed. In lieu of his typical rebellious nature, Sherlock here seems rather domesticated. Then, there’s Sam Claflin as Mycroft Holmes. “Enola Homes” has taken one of the most interesting characters in Doyle’s works and has reduced him to a one-dimensional villain. The man lives to be cross.
That being said, Louis Patridge as her partner-in-crime/potential love interest is the most bearable of the lot. His character’s sympathetic backstory and Patridge’s meekness plays well to Enola’s determination. The romance between the two isn’t particularly poignant but it gives us something to root for at the end of the day.
While “Enola Holmes” is clearly capitalising off its older brother’s reputation, the film does a decent enough job of establishing an identity of its own. If you can look past its flawed characterisation and cliche premise, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. Owed to Enola herself, played capably by Millie Bobby Brown. If you’re in the mood for some good, clean YA novel adaptation fun, then “Enola Holmes” is right up for your alley.
Those looking for a more traditional take on the character should definitely check out BBC’s “Sherlock”. Both are currently available on Netflix!