Enola Holmes (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★
Despite the chases, ciphers to be deciphered, a missing persons case, a murder plot, and political chess maneuverings, Harry Bradbeer’s “Enola Holmes” is astute enough to remain tethered to an emotional core: a child’s feelings of abandonment when her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) decides to leave their home one day without any warning. Although the titular character knows she is loved by her surviving parent, there remains doubt she is wanted. Because the story possesses an emotional crux, it requires minimal effort to be drawn to it. Notice how the adventures that tyro detective Enola Holmes manages to get herself into tend to stem from her need to prove she is good enough—that she is at least equal to her elder brothers, Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin) the government official and Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) the acclaimed private detective.
Millie Bobby Brown is an excellent choice to play the vivacious Enola. Possessing a high level of luminosity and charm, she portrays the young detective as plucky, intelligent, resourceful, and quite resolute. When she breaks the forth wall to address the audience—whether it be through a sarcastic look or using a string of words—it feels natural, that this is the exact shenanigan we expect for this character to pull off. Not even the screen can box her in. I enjoyed Brown’s performance so thoroughly, I was left feeling hungry for more Enola Holmes stories. The work’s darker turns toward the latter half—albeit evanescent—hint at what the filmmakers have yet to offer. It’s quite exciting.
“Is the central mystery strong?” is a question I make a habit to ask myself in a movie of this type. The answer is no—but I think it is interesting that it doesn’t have to be. At least not yet. It’s curious but nothing particular compelling. A case can be made that this film’s purpose is to introduce another type of Holmes, one who we are not as accustomed to. Like her famous brother, Enola has the talent for spotting clues, putting them together, and recognizing how they relate to the main question to be solved. But unlike Sherlock, Enola is quicker to employ martial arts when facing danger.
The picture possesses feminist leanings, sure, but I appreciated that when it comes to the character, the material is not so heavy-handed. (A subplot involving a Reform Bill that must be voted on is painfully vague—which I consider to be a misstep because the approach sucks the flavor out of what Enola’s mother is fighting for.) There is a joviality to folks—often men—lowering their defenses precisely because Enola is a young girl (not even a woman) in their eyes. There is a running joke involving our heroine offering to swap—for a price—her traditionally female garments for traditionally male clothing so that she is able to blend in or taken more seriously when necessary. Her gender is used to show a different angle to the overall Holmes brand. It is done is a fun, funny, and fresh way—never to lecture or chastise.
Even the romantic subplot is handled with a fine touch. I am especially tough with movie romances because a lot of them are so fake, they border on caricature. Not here. Brown shares wonderful chemistry with Louis Partridge who plays a young viscount who runs away from home. Enola takes the privileged boy for an idiot at first, but Jack Thorne’s screenplay proves to be a step ahead. Viscount Tewkesbury is revealed to have quite a bit more substance to him. And this neatly ties into the idea of appearances: Enola judges without knowing him, just as the world judges without learning first what she’s all about. In the end, we recognize precisely what they see, like, and love in one another. We actually root for them to remain together should there be a sequel.