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‘Enola Holmes’ breathes new life into an aging IP

Released to Netflix on Sept. 23, the film stars Millie Bobby Brown as Enola, the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.

Courtesy of Netflix

Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has a history that dates back to 1887, when he first appeared in “A Study in Scarlet.” More than 130 years later, Mr. Holmes continues to make frequent appearances in print and other media, including in movies and on TV. Most contemporary interpretations of the infamous detective and his cohort aren’t particularly memorable, but once in a while something new pops up that’s both spirited and engaging. Enter “Enola Holmes,” a mystery film released to Netflix on Sept. 23 that’s based on Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes detective novels for young adults.

Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things” fame plays Enola, the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Observant, insightful and defiant, Enola gets along just fine — until her mother, played by a riveting Helena Bonham Carter, goes missing once Enola turns 16. The disappearance prompts Sherlock, portrayed by Henry Cavill of “Stardust” and “Man of Steel,” to return home with an ill-tempered Mycroft, played by Sam Claflin from the “Hunger Games” film series, to investigate their mother’s whereabouts and determine what’s to become of their little sister.

Brown’s take as Enola doesn’t seem all that different from her interpretation of Eleven in episodes of “Stranger Things.” She doesn’t have to be a superhero of Victorian England, though Enola is an undervalued woman looking to compete in a man’s world, which requires resolve, cunning, and keen problem-solving skills, if she's to find herself on equal footing. Good thing these are qualities her mother worked to instill in her prior to vanishing from their countryside home. Along her journey, Enola solves puzzles, maintains her independence, and fights against the repressive nature of the world she inhabits. She’s a scrappy amateur detective of sorts — working her way toward becoming like Sherlock.

“Enola Holmes” does a solid job in balancing its source material — the book series it derives from isn’t part of the canon of Sherlock Holmes (the 56 short stories and four novels penned by Doyle) — with the expectations of longtime Sherlockians who look to consider investing in the new little sister and her adventures. Sherlockians should be keen on Cavill’s performance, though Claflin’s take as Mycroft is uneven and visually odd, given he’s meant to be older than Sherlock, yet Claflin is obviously younger than Cavill.

Courtesy of Netflix

Harry Bradbeer, who is best known as a director of TV shows, including episodes of “Sugar Rush” and “Killing Eve,” does a fine job in executing Jack Thorne’s screenplay with technical prowess while providing a satisfactory visual entrée to feast upon. Enola often breaks the fourth wall to speak directly with the audience, a technique Bradbeer is known for using in the past, which makes Enola more relatable and gives Brown more to work with in developing the character.

The movie falls into a bit of a trap, however, taking a detour that threatens to muddy the overall tone of the film as it seems to want to solve two mysteries that are competing for attention. Enola starts off with the desire to find out what’s happened to her mother, often working against the wishes of Mycroft, in particular. But she’s also drawn into the family drama of Viscount Tewkesbury, played by Louis Partridge — a relative newcomer. The Viscount’s story line heightens the stakes of the movie, and is a great source of tension, but it sometimes distracts from what seems to be Enola’s core mission. The cinematography of Giles Nuttgens, who’s known for collaborating with controversial Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, helps pull it all together, however, blending the two story lines together visually. His camera work highlights the divide between Enola’s upbringing and core mission with the Viscount’s side adventure, going so far as to capture different color palettes and tones for the Holmes’ countryside home and Enola’s flashback sequences, compared to Victorian London, the danger it poses, and the Viscount's estate.

At just over two hours in length, the movie seems a bit longer than it actually is. The overall pacing is fine, though the two story lines don’t always mingle well, making some scenes seem a bit unrefined and drawn out. Minor blemishes and Claflin’s version of Mycroft aside, the movie has great character moments and a compelling message that’s worthy of both general audience attention and Sherlockian scholarship. Rated PG-13 for some violence, “Enola Holmes” is as close to an all-ages experience one can find in a modern Sherlock Holmes adventure on screen. Brown, who also produced the film, has a standout performance, proving her excitement for the source material.

“Enola Holmes” was made by Legendary Pictures with PCMA Productions. The film was meant to receive a traditional theatrical release from Warner Bros., but due to the COVID-19 pandemic distribution rights were sold to Netflix and it was made available straight to streaming.



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