Despite its origins belonging to Arthur Doyle’s prodigious detective, Sherlock Holmes, the statement ‘to a great mind, nothing is little,’ bellows with hefty might in the Neftflix-released adaptation of Nancy Springer’s beloved YA series, Enola Holmes.
Enola Holmes comes to us from director Harry Bradbeer, known primarily for television work such as Fleabag and Killing Eve. The film follows the escapades of Enola (Eleven herself, Millie Bobby Brown), a sixteen-year-old intellect raised during 19th century England. Raised by single mother Eudoria (apparent anagram enthusiast, Helena Bonham Carter), whose strenuous home-school tutelage would rival any form of intensive military training, Enola is the product of a generation raised on radical feminist ideologies. Her name itself, a backwards spelling of ALONE, being a symbolic disapproval regarding co-dependency.
Sheltered from society, Enola wears her defiance of gender-norms like Sherlock would a deerstalker. Though aware of the inequalities presented to women, it is not until the mysterious disappearance of Eudoria does Enola feel the full weight of oppression. The brunt of which is exacerbated by the return of her brothers: Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill). The brothers hold contrasting ideologies, Mycroft being a misanthropic bureaucrat (Claflin playing this role with eccentric flair) and Sherlock (Cavill, not a hair curl out of place) being cognisant to the hardships felt by the oppressed, creates further distress for Enola.
Accompanying Enola on her quest for answers is the preppy Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) a young runaway, well accustomed to the silver-spoon lifestyle, being pursued by an unknown threat. Their escapades, leading them from their picturesque countryside surroundings into a glum-looking and politically unruly London, are filled with the barrage of snakes-and-ladders setbacks that have become accustomed to whodunnit capers.
Bradbeer tunes in to the right frequency when balancing the demands of each story; neither overpowering nor detracting from the other. The Fleabag director’s influence is clear from the get-go, with Enola’s direct relationship with the viewer, told in frequent fourth-wall breaking exchanges to the camera, imbuing upon the film a sense of thematic and stylish presentism.
Heck, Enola goes as far to wink at the camera; an unfortunate occurrence that arises as she is assaulted by an older man. It is in these uneven – and frankly uncomfortable – exchanges where the film struggles to collect itself. The seriousness and grit brought out in action sequences (the only manner the film bears some semblance to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 and 2011 Sherlock Holmes actioners) contradicts with the film’s otherwise family-friendly vibe. Its misuse is likely to stir up pleas from some parents, who may find themselves telling their kids to shut their eyes.
That said, the film rests on the performances of its lead, with Brown doing an impressive job carrying in her first sole lead performance. Thanks to Brown, Enola is an extremely likable and layered character. The Stranger Things actor empowers Enola to be more than just the product of great intelligence, but a stoic and compassionate figure that doesn’t allow mistreatment to happen to others…not if she can help it. Her keen sense of duty does not deprive her from the experiences of adolescence, and Brown dives head-first into her portrayal of a character exhibiting the full spectrum of emotion — romance and all.
Smartly so, Enola’s relationship with the avuncular Sherlock – whom she matches in the wit, charm and personality department – does not divulge into master-apprentice territory. Enola is no one’s Watson. Instead, Sherlock helps propel Enola’s story, acting as a springboard of support to the junior sleuth. It is not Sherlock’s movie to steal, which is all well and good, but even with the litany of Sherlock adaptations out there (the most daring of adaptations being in Gnome form), it is a little disappointing that Cav’s has nothing to do but smoulder, become lost in deep thought, and wear concrete-coloured suits that hug his neck.
It should be recognised that the film employs a diverse cast; a rarity in the confines of period films that, even with clearly fictional imaginings, still exclude multi-cultural actors for the sake of historical accuracy.
On a visual level, the film is gorgeous. The grandness in production design (great work by The Duchess and In Bruges production designer Michael Carlin), loaded with stunningly decorated sets, the beautiful landscape shots and with the film’s lovingly romanticised costuming, helps a large portion of the film feel like it has been stripped from the pages of Vogue.
With Enola Holmes, Netflix has yet another enjoyable, albeit slightly inconsistently toned, piece of escapism to help audiences pass the time in lockdown. It succeeds in telling an entertaining yet purpose-driven romp – one that champions the message of gender equality for a broad-aged audience. Case closed.
‘Enola Holmes’ is now streaming on Netflix and can be watched HERE.