Sherlock Holmes has had an out-sized influence on pop culture for over a century. Certainly he is one of the longest running fictional characters to consistently get re-worked every few years. And while there are others who have been around longer and return to prominence for brief periods (I see you, Dr. Frankenstein, although I think most of us like your monsters more than you), none have the outsized and continual influence that Holmes has. I have trouble remembering a time in the last ten years when there wasn’t some show either retelling the original stories, or moving the character into a more modern setting (a la Benedict Cumberbatch, and if that’s not the quintessentially British name, may the game never be afoot).
Enola Holmes on Netflix brings us another new take on the original setting. It’s not the first time that someone has postulated a never-before discussed sister for the famous detective. The first of the YA books by Nancy Springer to feature the budding young detective were published in 2006. And the show Sherlock, with the aforementioned Mr. Cumberbatch (who was far better as Dr. Strange than he was as Smaug, and I’ll fight you on that I will), postulated a sister who suffered from her own neurological issues, making her a master foil to the master detective. The wonderful thing about Holmes is that he’s constantly being reinterpreted by new generations, and though he never seems to be any less brilliant at observation and deduction, something about his own family leaves him fumbling in the dark at times.
The titular character, the Enola who carries the show, is played perfectly by Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame. Eleven shows she’s more than just a young woman who can look angry while her nose bleeds, and radiates a sense of playful joy as she winds her way through the mystery at the heart of this story. In fact, the only time I found her acting a little too painful to watch were the few times in the story she acted as though she were powerless, despite having already shown numerous times she had the power to act on her own if she would simply take it and run with it. But that is more than balanced by the show letting her break the fourth wall from time to time to address the audience, which feels very smart in this case. It’s never done too often to feel anything less than fresh in this type of show. Ms. Brown carries her British accent well enough it wasn’t ever annoying, and she was a delight in the part.
Surprisingly, Henry Cavill – he of the ripped chest and muscular arms and spectacularly lovely steel blue eyes, and Christ, what a hunk he is here with that wavy Victorian hairstyle! – ahem – Henry Cavill does an apt job playing Holmes, though at times he radiates too much… healthy vitality, perhaps? … to come across as the scholarly, self-absorbed, drug addicted detective. Yes, Holmes was a master at fencing, and shooting, and was not opposed to physicality, but perhaps I’ve been too long influenced by actors chosen to play him in the past, always lean and angular. A big, buff, Superman type seemed an odd choice, but Cavill mostly carried it off well, with only a few moments when the writing seemed to want to make him a far more sympathetic a character than I would have expected. I can see him taking Enola’s side out of respect for her own skills of observation and deduction, but they also wanted to give him compassion. Something that the Holmes estate itself found annoying (they sued over the depiction, which I found silly frankly).
Rounding out the cast were Sam Claflin as an annoying and sexist Mycroft Holmes, their older brother; Helena Bonham Carter as a wonderfully eccentric and delightful Eudoria Holmes, their mother; Fiona Shaw as Miss Harrison, the woman who runs Enola’s boarding school and who remains as nasty as she did in the Harry Potter series as Aunt Petunia (but she has a long and rich career in British cinema and stage and is far more than the slightly evil foil in these works); and several other people who shall not be named other than Burn Gorham, who adds yet another creepy killer dude to his long list of creepy killer parts. The guy is creepy in everything, trust me, and yet seems to be a genuinely funny and warm person in real life.
The main mystery of the movie is no great secret, being prominently presented in the trailers. Enola’s mother mysteriously disappears on the morning of her 16th birthday, and Enola must set out to find her, all while trying to avoid being sent off to a young lady’s finishing school by her oppressive and misogynistic uncle, Mycroft. I can see how she’d want to avoid that fate, however, given how her mother raised her to be a smart, independent, fighting woman. There are a few good twists along the way, and I won’t give away anything more, but overall it’s a solid plot and enjoyable with the exceptions I noted above about the moments of powerlessness.
The acting is genuinely good, although they didn’t give Burn Gorham much to do except act menacing and try to kill the main characters. There was an added bonus of a budding relationship for young Enola that, while I didn’t really care about, never became too overbearing for me (note: relationships are a staple of YA literature it seems, so I can understand its inclusion). The settings and costuming were gorgeous, as was the cinematography, and this film definitely got a solid treatment despite being made for television as it were. Though I’m firmly in the camp of those who believe traditional cinema is a dying medium and streaming is going to replace it in the next ten years.
All in all, Enola Holmes is a fun two-hour romp and worth your time to view. I only preferred it had been a six or eight part series to give the characters a little more room to breath, and give us more scenes with the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter. She’s never been anything less than awesome in everything I’ve seen her in, and I would have loved a bit more of her here. Still, I can’t complain at all, it was two hours well spent.
Enola Holmes gets nine of out ten pieces of aluminum foil from the Reynolds Wrap seal of quality. Come for the adventure, stay for the acting, enjoy the writing, and ignore those few areas it falls a little flat for you.