In “Enola Holmes,” director Harry Bradbeer (“Fleabag,” “Killing Eve”) has crafted a coming of age tale with the same energy, quirks and inventiveness of its lead actress, Millie Bobby Brown. Starting with a look into the camera for narration, à la “Fleabag,” we are introduced to the young Enola, by Enola herself. That off-kilter start sets the tone for the rest of the journey.
On the morning of her 16th birthday, Enola wakes to find that her mother, Eudoria Holmes (Helena Bonham Carter) has disappeared, leaving only a few odd gifts and no apparent clues as to where she may have gone. The carefree and wild days of her childhood quickly come crashing down around her as her older brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) assume guardianship. These men have no desire to help or comfort her, and soon they scheme on which boarding school she will attend in order to teach her to be a proper lady. Once Enola gets wind that she’ll soon be shipped off to school, she devises a plan to escape from her brothers and to rescue her mother. If Enola wants to find her mother and unravel the surrounding mystery, she will first need to outwit her brothers.
It is obvious that Enola shares the same wit and observational power as her brother, Sherlock, and watching her process and solve the various riddles and clues is a lot of fun – the female perspective is a refreshing take in the world of Holmes.
One of the themes tackled in the film is the idea of a woman’s place in society. While Enola’s free-spirited mother would have her studying wordplay and practicing athletics, the women of the time were very much expected to be groomed for marrying. Enola is referred to on more than one occasion as a “wild” child in need of being “broken” so she can take her place in society. While her mother wanted nothing more than to buck the system and raise her daughter to have her own mind, the minute she was alone in the male-dominated world, there was abuse and pressure to conform. One of Eudoria’s parting words to her daughter before her disappearance was, “The future is up to us” – mother to daughter, female to female – the future depends on their voices being heard. With the backdrop of women’s suffrage and Enola’s own personal emancipation, “Enola Holmes” is up to more than just a fun adventure. By telling a story of empowering women to fight for themselves and outwit those who seek to dominate them, this film strikes the right notes – especially today.
Bradbeer and writer Jack Thorne bring this colorful new Sherlockian world to life, keeping the distinctly female voice intact, thanks to novelist Nancy Springer’s excellent source material. With beautiful costumes, a glorious 19th-century London setting, and a killer score from Daniel Pemberton, it’s easy to be transported and transfixed by the wonderful world of Enola.
In addition to Brown, a strong supporting cast help bring this adventure to life. Cavill is a charming Holmes, Claflin takes a great turn as the very uptight Mycroft, and Carter never disappoints, although each of them have very minimal roles against Brown’s lead. The film also features Burn Gorman and Fiona Shaw showing up as dastardly villains in their own right, and relative newcomer Louis Partridge rounding out the rest of the cast.
The focus on personal responsibility, seeking your own path, and being true to yourself all hit home, as this film sticks the landing and delivers a great family adventure film that’s sure to be another hit for Netflix.
“Enola Holmes” will debut exclusively on Netflix beginning September 23, 2020.
Film critic and member of the North Carolina Film Critic Association.