It’s usually a man’s world, but in this adaptation of Nancy Springer’s young adult novel, there’s a new Holmes in town. This parallel universe introduces Sherlock’s bold, jiu-jitsu-fighting 16-year-old sister Enola (“alone” spelt backwards), played by a charming Millie Bobby Brown. It’s a fun reimagining with a powerful message about identity, set against a Victorian backdrop in the run-up to a vote on the Reform Bill for women’s suffrage – just one of the many storylines in this energetic adventure.
There are two mysteries for our titular sleuth to solve: the first is the sudden disappearance of her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) and the second is the appearance of a young lord-in-waiting Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who will somehow need the heroine’s help. The investigation is simple and sub-“Sherlock” standard, but the primary arc centres around the protagonist stepping out from her brother’s shadow in order to form her own path to London – and to independence. She’s a free-spirited teen, refreshingly unbothered by societal expectations. For Enola, corsets are suits of armour for storing cash. Brown shines with natural charisma, cheekily and frequently breaking the fourth wall as she deciphers her next clue. Conversely, the role is in such safe hands that there is no sense of danger, and therefore the resolutions are less satisfying.
Perhaps the biggest risk taken is reducing Sherlock Holmes (an underused Henry Cavill) to local celebrity status, having the detective pace around thoughtfully and – shock horror – show care and emotion towards his sister. Controversy aside, Enola Holmes boasts a star-studded (though sidelined) cast including Sam Claflin as a caricatured Mycroft Holmes and Fiona Shaw as headmistress of a school that teaches girls how to become a lady and “acceptable wife”. Thankfully, the commentary on this subject is clear, and for an ostensibly silly film, there are some serious, more progressive themes: gender equality, calling out privilege, the importance of voting and the danger of burying your head in the sand, to name but a few. It’s even more interesting that some of these could be direct criticisms of Mr Holmes himself.
The feature’s main downfalls are an unnecessarily long running time and whiplash of constant flashbacks. One of the main sources of mystery, Tewkesbury, also lacks intrigue, the character not introduced for long enough to convincingly sell his story. However, Brown’s performance more than makes up for it; you don’t have to be a sleuth to enjoy the coming-of-age adventures of a feisty heroine ahead of her time. With a whole series of novels to potentially adapt, we may well see her again.
Enola Holmes is released on Netflix on 23rd September 2020.
Watch the trailer for Enola Holmes here: