Synopsis: Enola Holmes, teenaged sister of Sherlock Holmes investigates her mother’s sudden disappearance.
Reconstructions of Sherlock Holmes have been a mainstay of cinema for nearly a century. It wasn’t long after Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the English detective in his 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet that the character began appearing in silent films. From the 1930’s to the 1970’s television and movies brought audiences the detective stories set in Victorian era London. Modernizations in the 21st Century deviated from canon with over-the-top action flicks (please stop with the British characters RDJ) and present-day settings (Jonny Miller in NYC with Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson).
All of the character’s depictions capitalized on Doyle’s original portrait of Holmes: a brilliant detective who employed keen observational skills, superior deductive reasoning with a no-nonsense unemotional manner. Somehow the author made what could have been an insufferably pedantic character engaging. Well, his toffishness can get annoying.
Giving Sherlock a breather, Netflix expands the Holmes world with Enola Holmes, an 1884 London-set story based on author Nancy Springer’s The Enola Holmes Mysteries featuring Sherlock’s sleuthing teenaged sister. Casting coup: Millie Bobby Brown as Enola.
Ms. Brown’s Enola is a tenacious sprite unbounded by convention. Not surprising, since her mum is played by the splendid, and seemingly slightly unhinged Helena Bonham Carter as, well, the same sort of person. Except in the movie they make Helena fence and fight and beekeep with her movie daughter and I imagine that Helena doesn’t practice those things IRL.
On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Enola wakes to find that her mother has disappeared. Before she took off, she left a book about flowers for her daughter. Enola quickly surmises that there are clues to her mother’s whereabouts within.
Meanwhile her brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, arrive from London by train to meet up with Enola at the family’s country estate. In a case of miscasting, Henry Cavill is Sherlock. It’s weird to see the famous detective fairly bursting out of his Victorian era suit in a body clearly crafted by Cross Fit and protein shakes. Maybe he has been working out too hard because he is fairly low energy; just slouched on a divan while Enola theorizes as to her mum’s reason for leaving. Not miscast, but mischaracterized is Sam Claflin as Mycroft. Mycroft isn’t just supercilious as usual, oh no, he hollers and screams at Enola about shipping her off to boarding school until she cries. Flashbacks to the frightful hissy fits of the count in Moulin Rouge! Thankfully Enola is unencumbered by tuberculosis like the count’s target, Satine/ Nicole Kidman.
Enola sensibly plans her escape to London where she will begin her search for mum. In what turns out to be some sort of clothes swapping fetish, Enola dresses as a boy and boards a train. She ends up sharing her compartment with a hetero twink: an older teenaged boy, thin of frame, tender faced and glossy haired. Tis young Lord Tewkesbury. Played by Louis Partridge, he’s leaving home to throw off the yoke of aristocracy. I get it– just like Prince Harry! He’s seeking a free bohemian life in the city. Ah, an age-old wish. But how to earn a few shillings? Unfortunately, he lacks the callouses or muscles to carry packages let alone work in a factory or warehouse. And the filthy air of those places would ruin his English Rose complexion. Perhaps he could find employ as a ladies’ club mascot?
Well, when Teen Boy/Tewkesbury suggests to Enola that they team up, she correctly determines that he has no useful skills or knowledge for city life. Then again, sequestered on the Holmes Estate, neither does she. Fate intervenes when Enola sees a sinister-looking Bowler Hat Guy poking around the train carriages. I’ve seen this same guy in other British productions and he is always a rough character, so I was expecting malfeasance. Naturally, Enola is the only one to offer any good ideas as to how to escape the creep.
There is some rousing action and peril before Enola makes her way to London, most involving her protection of Teen Boy. At one point, he does make himself useful before they get to the smog choked, fetid city of London. He finds some edible weeds and makes a nice vegetarian meal for the two of them. Teen Boy makes googly eyes at Enola, but she doesn’t want to be encumbered. And we can see from the look in her eyes that, besides wanting to get to down to looking for her mum, she is itching to do some more clothes swapping. And she does!
Whilst in London, Enola dresses like a Lady and everybody swoons just like we did when Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman gets on a bustle, corset and Victorian-chic dress. Enola uses all sorts of excuses to swap clothes. At one point, she decides the best way to elude someone is to dress up like one of the cast of Newsies. I mean, she could’ve simply run away. But the newsboy hat was irresistible.
Enola starts looking into her flower birthday book for clues… this has her running around the city to a women’s jiujitsu class above a tea shop, an explosives workshop, out to the countryside again dressed as a widow (but not for long, and soon she will swap clothes with a gardener for no reason). And all this time we see neither hide nor hair of Mrs. Holmes. we know that this is because the producers could not afford much of big star Helena Bonham Carter’s time. But poor Enola doesn’t know that!
Meanwhile, Sherlock and Mycroft are trying to track down their sister Enola. Murderous Bowler Hat Guy is after her too. You see, Enola is back with Teen Boy. She realized that he was pretty helpless, so she offers her protection while trying to determine why someone would want him dead. Maybe they are just jealous of his artist’s model looks. Whatever the reason, her search for her mum –who might be a suffragist terrorist– will have to wait.
All & all Enola Holmes is a fine diversion. Millie Bobby Brown makes the most of the role and charms us with cheeky asides to the camera. The mystery itself isn’t terribly cerebral, but this is a promising opening to what may become a series. And I’m hoping that the producers pull together enough money for a cameo or two from British acting royalty in future outings. Maybe Dame Emma Thompson as Auntie Holmes or Dev Patel as a cousin?
From 1887 – 1927 Sir Conan Doyle penned four novels and 56 short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. There were Sherlock Holmes movies in the silent film era, but movie lovers’ attention was really caught in 1939 with The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Basil Rathbone. The actor would go on to appear as Sherlock Holmes in another thirteen movies and seal his reputation for providing the classic interpretation of the detective. Other notable Sherlocks include: Jeremy Brett (1970’s series), Robert Downey, Jr.(Guy Ritchie’s 2000’s films), Benedict Cumberbatch (2010’s series) and Jonny Lee Miller (2010’s series). And special mention for the animated mouse in 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. He looks great in a deerstalker hat.