Can a summer movie about Sherlock Holmes’ sister, Enola Holmes, live up to its viral trailer and Nancy Springer’s source material? No shit, Sherlock.
The beloved character of Enola, with whom Gen Z grew up, becomes a winning heroine for a new generation in this plucky mystery that pulls from Springer’s novels and Nancy Drew novellas, while remaining as modern and magnificent as its trailer promised.
To adapt the book into something a bit more sophisticated to appeal to older audiences, director Harry Bradbeer (who got his start on television) has brought a healthy dose of eccentricity to the proceedings. And his leading lady, Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), proves to be more than up to the challenge of walking the fine line between shy and eccentric in her performance.
As the movie opens, Enola’s living with her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who home schools her daughter in literature, philosophy, martial arts and feminist thinking. In 19th century England, it’s no surprise that Eudoria is also part of the suffrage movements that are rousing the country, activism she keeps hidden from her spry, curious daughter. On Enola’s 16th birthday, though, Eudoria disappears, leaving behind clues for her children to solve.
Enola falls into the tradition of little kids who embark on big adventures (see: Dora the Explorer). She’s been brought up well by Eudoria, and she knows everything about books and fighting. She just doesn’t know much about the world. When her brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) arrive, ready to pack her off to Miss Harrison’s Finishing School For Girls, where she’ll learn the importance of corsets and boys (yuck!), she has other plans.
Enola sets off for London to search for Eudoria, following a trail of breadcrumbs that mother left behind. On her way to the city, she crosses paths with Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), a young lord also on the run from family. The pair are soon pursued by a violent man during a chase sequence that sends the plot hurtling toward calamity, conspiracy, anarchy and class upheaval.
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Adapted by Jack Thorne, the writer behind Wonder and The Aeronauts, Enola Holmes is everything fans could ask for. The script smartly updates the slower stuff in Springer’s novels, but it still remains true to what made Enola appeal to millions of readers. As played by Brown, the character is bright, buoyant and independent, and it’s easy to see how she’ll connect with today’s youth. She’s so much more than another Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel. She’s someone girls can relate to, someone who grapples with fear and loneliness while kicking ass, confidently, without all the usual “look how strong woman are” sentiments.
It helps that Brown is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, too, including Fiona Shaw as Miss Harrison, as well as Susan Wokoma, Adeel Akhtar and Hattie Morahan. Burn Gorman, meanwhile, is menacing as the man hired to take out Tewkesbury. He follows our heroes from London alleys to sprawling estates, empty forests to run down hotels; anything to stop Tewkesbury from voting in the coming election, which decides whether citizens of London who aren’t rich can vote. And Enola outwits him every step of the way.
The film plays with form the way its titular heroine plays with words: dazzlingly, whimsically and sarcastically. It jumbles together animation, flashbacks, title cards, silent movie placards and even a few meta jokes to create a truly original work within a tried-and-true formula. But what really sets it apart is Brown (who also produced with her sister Paige), and with five more books in Springer’s series, it’s possible that we haven’t seen the last of Enola Holmes.
The film plays with form the way Enola plays with words: dazzlingly, whimsically and sarcastically. It's a breezy escape from a world that seems to be getting darker by the day.