Review: ENOLA HOLMES, A Feisty Heroine Solves A Fun Mystery
I'm not sure if Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed literary character in film and television, but it's got to be near the top of the list; a character so popular that you can set many things in the Holmes 'universe' as we could call it (as most of the stories are long since in public domain) and people immediately can picture it. With all the variations on his character and stories, it's not suprising that another young adult version would make its way to the screen, this time from stories based on the new chararcter of Holmes' teenager sister, and who else would you cast but teenager star Mille Bobbie Brown (Stranger Things) as the whipsmart yet stubborn girl?
Based on the first in a series of YA novels by Nancy Spring, the film follows the adventures of the title character Enola Holmes, the younger sister of Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) Holmes. Having been raised by her capable, smart, but a little scatterbrained mother (Helena Bonham Carter), one morning Enola wakes to find her mother has vanished. Mycroft, as her now official guardian, is determined to turn Enola into a proper English lady. Enola immediately rolls her eyes at this prospect, and taking the small fortune her mother stashed away for her, she escapes to London.
On the way, she encounters the very young Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), also on the run from his family, and as it turns out, an assassin. London is not the romantic, inviting place that Enola had imagined, and even as she searches for her mother, and tries to save Lord Tewksbury, she must navigate a world that is not only hostile to minors, but hostile to women. Luckily, her mothe raised her well, and while she makes a few mistakes, she has more than enough courage and determination to solve both cases.
Certain in terms of story and style, this is a film aimed squarley at teenagers. This is not detriment; it uses its source material well, relates a god mystery with enough twists to keep th audience guessing, and thankfully doesn't rush; too many YA films now just aim to get from one action or romance sequence to the next. But this is a Holmes story, after all, and the sleuthing is half the fun. Enola has plenty of opportunity to follow clues and use deductive reasoning as well as fighting skills to find the answers to the mysteries. The story doesn't talk down to its audience, rather treating them as equal (or almost equal) to Enola.
And the story also doesn't shy away from politics, looking squarely at the fight in the late 19th century not only for women's rights and the vote, but the rights of the poor and workers, against the waning aristocracy. This is a big-budget, glossy film, to be sure, but it's not afraid of putting Enola in some serious danger, nor sugar-coating those dangers, either physical or political. Brown as Enola is the best kind charming; she's the kind of teenage girl I wanted to be: sure of herself and her abilities, determined to use her talent for her own life and independence, but at the same time kind, and fighting for what she knows is right. Having her break the fourth wall, a device I normally loathe in cinema, works effectively, to invite the audience to be her co-conspirator and a part of her adventures.
The supporting cast holds their own (as it should with heavyweights like Fiona Shaw and Frances de la Tour), while never overshadowing Brown; she in turn makes this more than just a vehicle for herself, shining her proverbial light on everyone. Cavill is an interesting choice for Sherlock; while the character at this point in his history is young, he is more attuned with older Sherlock of the Conany Doyle books, more in touch with his feelings and ready to express himself with a touch more kindness than his genius would allow him.
While aimed at a teenage audience, Enola Holmes isn't without its enjoyments for any adult supervisors, and the mystery itself is one that suits a budding teen sleuth with the energy and determination to solve it. Brown brings such delight with a joyous and fierce lead, who learns that even with good role models, she can forge her own path.
Enola Holmes will be available on Netflix on September 23rd.