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edge staff writer


Sherlock’s smart sister shines splendidly in ‘Enola Holmes’

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Few literary characters are as beloved as the famed detective Sherlock Holmes. From his beginnings in the tales spun by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the multitude of stage and screen adaptations we’ve seen featuring the character over the ensuing decades, audiences have lone adored the eccentric crime-solver.

Of course, with a century’s worth of stories, it can be difficult to find new ways to bring the character to life. We’ve seen so many iterations – in what ways might one breathe new life into the Holmesian mythos?

Well … how about a sister?

“Enola Holmes,” newly streaming on Netflix, offers viewers a new path through this well-worn landscape. Based on the first book in a series of young adult novels by Nancy Springer, the film is directed by Harry Bradbeer from a script adapted by Jack Thorne. It introduces us to the titular Enola Holmes, a teenage girl whose intellectual talents are comparable to those of her far more famous older brothers.

There’s an undeniable charm to this film, a basic wholesomeness that is utterly appealing even as it occasionally veers into the realm of the cornball. It is goofy and fun, with a healthy sprinkling of empowerment and a top-notch collection of supporting talent, all in service of an absolute star turn from Millie Bobbie Brown, who plays the titular Enola and offers up a performance that is indicative of great things to come.

Enola Holmes has always been a bit different. Since the long-ago death of her father, it has largely been just her and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter, TV’s “The Crown”), who raised young Enola in a manner far different than the usual. Young Enola is brilliant and a freethinker; her mother spends as much time teaching her jiujitsu and playing tennis in the parlor as she does with traditional schooling.

But then, on the morning of her 16th birthday, Enola wakes up to find her mother gone. No note, nothing. Eudoria’s disappearance means that her long-absent sons must return to deal with everything … including Enola. Mycroft (Sam Claflin, “Love Wedding Repeat”) is an up-and-comer in England’s halls of power, while Sherlock (Henry Cavill, TV’s “The Witcher”) has developed quite a reputation as a renowned detective.

Despite Enola’s protestations, Mycroft decides that she will be placed in a finishing school where he hopes the wildness encouraged by Eudoria can be trained out of her, all while a bemused Sherlock basically looks on. Enola, however, unearths clues as to her mother’s potential whereabouts and decides to flee the estate.

While on the train, she encounters another young person attempting to avoid an unwanted fate. Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge, TV’s “Medici”) is a noble with little interest in venturing into the House of Lords; his wealthy family is sparing no expense to track him down. The two inadvertently wind up entangled, with Enola helping to rescue him from a mysterious pursuer before going her own way.

Enola lands in London, but it soon becomes clear that there is far more to her mother’s disappearance than she ever could have guessed, leaving her to face unanticipated dangers as she tries to track her mother down while also avoiding detection by either of her brothers. Before long, Enola is thoroughly entangled in a conspiracy that reaches to the very highest levels, with nothing but her wits to protect her. Fortunately, her wits are formidable indeed.

“Enola Holmes” is just a delight, a frothy and fun film that manages that rare feat of being engaging to all ages. While it is clearly aimed at the same younger audience that consumed its source material, it proves more than capable of entertaining older viewers as well, thanks to a well-crafted narrative and some surprisingly good action sequences and fight scenes. There are plenty of laughs to be had, as well as some moments of genuine pathos. Of particular note is the commitment to a consistent breaking of the fourth wall by Brown as Enola, adding a level of meta-awareness that renders us all the more engaged with the character.

(It is also clearly setting the stage for a sequel or three – no surprise considering Netflix’s obvious interest in entering the franchise arena. And hey, considering there are six books in the series, there’s plenty of adaptable material still on the table. The truth is that you could do a lot worse: Enola Holmes is a smart, strong female character, one who is capable and clever and to whom younger audiences will almost certainly relate.)

The film is not without controversy. While the character of Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain, not all of the stories featuring the character are, leaving a bit of a grey area. Enough of a grey area that the Doyle estate filed suit against the filmmakers, claiming that the depiction of Holmes here infringes on the character as he exists in the tales not yet in the public domain. Basically, they’re claiming that Sherlock Holmes having emotions is still under copyright. Do with that information what you will.

It’s no shock that a film titled “Enola Holmes” would lean heavily on the actor playing the titular role. We’ve seen Brown’s talent, of course – her work in “Stranger Things,” for example – but it is interesting to see her so easily shoulder the load of carrying a film (and one intended to become a franchise to boot). There’s a quick-witted mercurial quality about her, an energy that is infectious and engaging. She has legitimate charisma, with a presence that is magnetic and memorable. Not to mention the fact that she unflinchingly shares the screen with big talents and not only holds her own, but outright shines.

As for that ensemble, well – they’re awfully good too. Cavill is note-perfect as this standoffish-but-sexy version of Sherlock Holmes, capturing an air of constant mild distraction that suits this take beautifully. Ditto Claflin, who digs into Mycroft’s fundamental self-absorption to give us a guy who is a self-involved jerk, but not fully hateable – a deceptively tough line to walk. We don’t get a ton of Carter, but she’s exquisite as always, a consummate pro who manages to give us a full rendering of character in just a handful of moments. Partridge is good as well, though he occasionally struggles a bit to keep up with Brown.

“Enola Holmes” is just plain fun, a charming and engaging adventure story anchored by a phenomenal performance from a rising star. It’s a movie that the whole family can not only watch together, but genuinely enjoy together – a true rarity.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 28 September 2020 11:32


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