Director: Harry Bradbeer
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Helena Bonham Carter, Susan Wokoma
Few if any fictional characters have been brought to both the large and small screens as exhaustively as Sherlock Holmes.
Truth be told, this ubiquity has led to a certain weariness, on my part. Being confronted with yet another iteration? Fine, okay. Here, for Netflix, Henry Cavill steps into his well-heeled shoes and he does a decent enough job. But it’s a pleasure for all concerned that he is only a supporting player in this whip-crackingly smart new feature. Based on the book by Nancy Springer, Harry Bradbeer’s jovial tale centres on the Great Detective’s equally brilliant but mysteriously under-sung 16-year-old sister, Enola (Millie Bobby Brown).
While Sherlock and his brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin) have been making names for themselves in London, Enola has been growing up at the family’s rural homestead, encouraged into working her wits by matriarch Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). But when Enola’s mother goes missing, our erstwhile heroine ventures away from home for the first time on an adventure that’ll take her to the bustle of Victorian London and back. On the way she becomes embroiled in the affairs of a young fugitive named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), who is hotly pursued by Burn Gorman’s bowler hatted villain Linthorn. Before you can curtsy the two stories are intertwined and Enola Holmes scampers forward at an enthusiastic pace.
This rip-roaring affair is powered along by an irrepressible, pointedly progressive sensibility. It may adhere to the Victorian setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective, but Enola Holmes leans into the ripples of change going on at the fringes of English society. In this case, the fringes are female. The women’s suffrage movement becomes a recurring motif of the picture, and there’s a wry acknowledgement that pioneers of the past are often – in their times – considered menaces for the advances they wish to invoke. Enola herself is quite the precocious young woman, encouraged to boldness by the mother she drops everything to find. Taking a feather from the cap of Fleabag, Brown’s Enola frequently breaks the fourth wall, addressing the camera with her wry asides, mocking the institutions that she has little time for.
Young Brown’s Portmanesque attributes have already garnered her attention on Netflix’s popular nostalgia-fest Stranger Things. Enola Holmes finds the actor grasp the opportunity of a feature lead with both hands. Jack Thorne’s witty script gives her plenty to work with, but it is Brown herself who puts the sparkle on it. That she is enjoying the role tremendously is self-evident. Her Enola is smarter and funnier than the men who surround her; her brothers included.
There’s a sense of invitation about this movie. A request for our attention accentuated by those direct-to-camera moments. At one point we’re even gallingly asked to help Enola out of a tricky situation; “Have you got any ideas?” It’s quite, quite charming.
If there’s an MVP likely to go unrecognised here, it’s probably Daniel Pemberton, whose sinuous score imbues the film with a fleet-of-foot nimbleness. The music lifts and scurries, complimenting it’s heroine’s fanciful encounters and the sense of one rushing impatiently toward adulthood; toward whatever possibilities are next.. It’s one of the most giving sonic backdrops I’ve heard this year, as important a player as Brown herself. As far as she’s concerned though, this effort should only open further doors. We may have a genuine movie star on our hands.
With a penchant for puzzles and a love of anagrams, Enola’s a brainy young woman, but Eudoria’s schooled her in a number of other talents, enabling the story to throw in action set pieces. So, with determination and quite some capability, Enola drives motorcars, spars in a back alley fight, even leaps from a speeding train. Bradbeer’s film has the warm feel of the Paddington movies (complete with deftly mounted little animated moments) and is similarly molded for the appreciation of all ages. It makes for a pleasing package; this is one for the whole family to enjoy, and Enola makes for a superb and empowering role model.
Things do veer a little on the violent side, occasionally. Cautious parents may want to have a cursory preview before unleashing it on the youngsters (Enola Holmes carries a 12 certificate here in the UK). A few scraped knees, a nasty bang to the head and one loud shotgun remark aside, this remains breezily inclusive. The piece’s brimming positivity – this thing beams – outweighs the memories of its brief violent tendencies once all’s done and dusted.
Seeing as any and every property going is milked for its franchisability these days – regardless of its worth – please let this be the first in a series of equally enterprising escapades.
!alonE aviV .ni lla m’I