Someone’s finally done right by Millie Bobby Brown and cast her as a fully fleshed out character. While her roles in ’80s nostalgia bonanza Stranger Things (kid cursed with psychokinetic abilities fighting extradimensional monsters) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (kid torn between divorced parents and surrounded rampaging colossi), neither role demands that she emote beyond forlorn gazes. In Enola Holmes, a mystery focused on Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant kid sister and her efforts to foil crime, Brown finally gets to do more than scream and frown.
While the movie itself is heavy on plot and heavier on exposition, Brown’s performance makes the story gallop at a breezy clip regardless. She’s liberated, appropriate given that Enola Holmes is about the liberation Enola finds as she comes of age, stepping out of the curated world erected around her by her enigmatic mum, Eudoria (Helena Bonham-Carter). When her mother goes missing, Enola quickly deduces Eudoria has gone on the lam, and so she leaves Ferndell, the Holmes family’s estate, armed with pugilist skills and worldly knowledge passed down to her by her mother, intent on finding her and understanding why she left in the first place.
Along the way she gets wrapped up in the travails of Viscount Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), a young lord-to-be whose life is threatened by parties unknown. (Tewksbury would rather live, all things considered.) Initially, Enola regards Tewksbury as a bump in the road she’s taking to find Eudoria, more a nuisance than a soul in need. But her better angels win out over traditional Holmesian apathy, and she takes the case.
Enola Holmes is adapted from The Enola Holmes Mysteries, author Nancy Springer’s YA pastiche, nestled in Holmes canon while simultaneously pushing back against it. Where the book positions both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, played here by Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin respectively, as custodians of patriarchal rule, Harry Bradbeer’s interpretation leaves that role specifically to Mycroft. Sherlock is the more progressive of the two, and sexier, and more strapping, and oddly older looking despite being the younger brother. (Claflin makes a good Mycroft, but the age difference between him and Cavill is blatant on screen.) Enola, having met her siblings only once as a child, takes to Sherlock better during their long-awaited reunion, following his example as a detective while determinedly making her own path through life. Watching Brown match charisma with Cavill as Enola deftly outmaneuvers Sherlock is a pure youthful delight: One aches for a film where they’re featured together in the main plot, but a brother-sister duo would make less sense for a narrative that orbits societal change and shifting gender norms.
The world is built for and by men like Sherlock. Edith (Susie Wokoma), a friend of Eudoria’s and the owner of a dojo posing as a teahouse, tells him as much to his face. It’s a message loudly received against the backdrop of Enola’s adventures in sleuthing and reckoning with womanhood. She’s sharp, capable and independent, yes, but Tekwsbury is awful cute, more so because he’s comparatively helpless. How to resolve her drive to be her own person and her budding feelings for this affably dopey aristocrat? Enola Holmes wends its way around this question as she’s hunted by both the assassin (Burn Gorman) out for Tewksbury’s head, and Inspector Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) because a YA movie can’t just be about the plot—it has to be about young ones confronting their imminent maturity too, and in this case it’s also about being born into a family where expectations are high and relatives can’t communicate without speaking in degrees of riddles and codes.
Taken all together, the film is a lot. It’s a little too much, even, ladened by two endings too many, a necessity imposed by excess plot written into Jack Thorne’s script. But if about five or 10 minutes could’ve been left on the floor, Enola Holmes remains enchanting, in large part because Brown is having such a good time hitting different notes. She’s relentlessly charming, whether in fourth wall breaks to address her audience, likely predominantly comprising young women at similar crossroads in their own lives (sans murder most foul), or when fending off attempts on her life and Tewksbury’s. With a wink here, a smile there and a stock-still but knowing glance at viewers, Brown is a dynamo, full of vigor, cheer and enough pathos to make the sub-theme of civil unrest and social change feel real and relevant to children on the cusp of teenhood and teens on the cusp of adulthood. Enola Holmes is about serious matters. Fortunately, it isn’t a serious film, which makes a nice change of pace from the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC series, which never give in to the idea that tracking clues and apprehending villains could actually be fun.
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Writer: Jack Thorne
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Susie Wokoma, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar
Release Date: September 23, 2020 (Netflix)
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.