On the morning of her 16th birthday, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) wakes to find that her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) has disappeared, leaving behind an odd assortment of gifts but no apparent clue as to where she’s gone or why. After a free-spirited childhood, Enola suddenly finds herself under the care of her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), both set on sending her away to a finishing school for “proper” young ladies. Refusing to follow their wishes, Enola escapes going to search for her mother in London. But when her journey finds her entangled in a mystery surrounding a young runaway Lord, Enola becomes a super-sleuth in her own right, outwitting her famous brother as she unravels a conspiracy that threatens to set back the course of history.
You’re probably wondering “What the hell is Enola Holmes?” To start with, Enola Holmes is a young adult fiction series of detective novels by American author Nancy Springer. There are currently six books in total at the time of writing and now is also one of the latest big-budget releases from Netflix starring Millie Bobby Brown in the titular role. This film, naturally, is based on the first book “The Case of the Missing Marquess”. I’m getting my hands on the rest of the books sharpish, as I need to know more about Enola and the world she inhabits. The film came about because Millie had read the books with her older sister and immediately wanted to play the role of Enola, but she wasn’t quite old enough. She later told her father they should make it into a film and partnered with Legendary Pictures to bring the film to life, which gives her a producing credit for the film.
We have all seen films based on young adult fiction that have missed the mark, or have treated the target demographic like children. Enola Holmes does not do either. It’s funny, interesting and doesn’t over-bloat itself with unnecessary padding. It manages to tell a well-crafted story in a nicely fleshed out universe in 123-minutes, by treating its audience as full thinking, intelligent human beings rather than dumbing down, over-explaining or hand-holding us at any point throughout the story.
The premise of the series is that Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes – yes that Sherlock Holmes – have a younger sister named Enola. In the books, she’s 14 but she’s aged up to 16 for the film, for, well I’m not entirely sure of the reasons; possibly because Millie Bobby Brown is herself 16. (Please, excuse me while I weep at the fact that a 16-year old is that talented.) The film quickly establishes that she is a free-wheeling, strong-willed, and boundary-pushing young woman. Enola is also presented as an extremely intelligent, observant, insightful, well-read and has learnt everything from chess to jiu-jitsu. (And before anyone starts screaming “Mary Sue! Mary Sue!”, please take into account that I have just described Sherlock Holmes in his entirety.)
Millie is only the beginning of what is a star-studded cast. Henry Cavill plays Sherlock Holmes, the second oldest of the Holmes siblings and famous private detective. Sam Claflin plays Mycroft Holmes, the eldest of the siblings. Helena Bonham Carter plays Eudoria Holmes, the matriarch of the Holmes family, and, in a rare move for YA fiction, Daddy Holmes is no longer on this earth, he is only briefly mentioned in passing. The cast also included Adeel Akhtar playing Lestrade, Fiona Shaw as Miss Harrison, Frances de la Tour as the Dowager, Louis Partridge as The Earl Of Tewkesbury and Susie Wokoma as the teashop owner Edith. The Director is Harry Bradbeer, whose other works included the award-winning series Killing Eve and Fleabag. Much of the film’s style harks back to his work on these series.
The screenplay is by Jack Thorne, some of his previous credits include Shameless, Skins and the stage play of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Boy did he do well on this one – it has been mentioned in interviews that Brown and Thorne discussed characterizations of Enola, especially her breaking of the fourth wall which the film presents in a brilliant way. It’s not overused, it’s not played just for laughs or to add unnecessary information. Instead, it helps the flow of the story in that it helps speed up the flashbacks. What is an origin story without a lot of flashbacks? And that’s what this film is, an origin story, much in the vein of superhero origin stories. Except Enola is much more interesting than any lycra-wearing, cape-sporting demigod. She is relatable, she feels believable in any time period and overcomes obstacles in clever and creative ways. I have my fingers crossed that they do more of these films.
The film begins with Enola explaining her life with her mother, living at the family home in the countryside. It is far from the typical upbringing of an upper-class young girl in Victorian England, as none of the usual skills deemed necessary for a young lady is anywhere to be seen in the curriculum Eudoria teaches her. On the morning of her 16th birthday, she awakens to discover her mother has disappeared, leaving behind only some gifts and a mystery of where she has gone. The elder brothers are called and arrive, not recognising Enola, having not seen her for years. Sherlock finds her interesting and intelligent, while the class-conscious and severe Mycroft is horrified by her lack of societal polish and graces that he considers necessary for any young lady. As her legal guardian as the head of the family, he resolves to send her away to a finishing school, run by the strict and stern teacher Miss Harrison.
Enola finds some clues and money left by her mother, and disliking, Mycroft and Miss Harrison’s plans for her, she runs away disguised as a boy, all while foiling Mycroft and Sherlock’s attempts to find her. While on the run she meets the young Viscount Tewkesbury, who despite my first thoughts of “oh here’s the shoehorned in romantic subplot. Eye-roll to the heavens”, is an actually interesting and compelling character. They make their way to London and many hijinks and shenanigans ensue, while Enola works on finding her mother and work out why someone wants young Tewkesbury dead. The latter does come to take up most of the film’s plot, but that is no bad thing in my opinion as a story with an immediate danger is always more exciting than trying to find someone who does not want to be found.
It’s action-packed, fast-paced and every part of the film weaves well into the story. We’re introduced to a whole slew of characters that I wish had more screen time. There’s a particular scene with Edith and a teapot that is just perfect in my opinion, and one can only surmise that the plan is to make a whole series of films wherein some of the side characters will have their true moments in the spotlight. The film’s ending definitely leaves room open for a sequel, of which talks are already underway for according to the director, while also tying up the story of this film in a way that neatly answers any questions one might have.
So should you watch Enola Holmes? Emphatically YES! It is such an enjoyable film that I’ve already watched it multiple times. It is as close to perfect as a film can be. The characters are well fleshed out and not one-dimensional tropes. The plot is gripping without ever getting boring, and considering they bring up the Third Reform Act of 1884 that is no mean feat. The heroine is interesting, knows she is flawed and jolly well goes out to get things done, anyway despite the machinations of the menfolk in her life. She’s the sort of character I’d want anyone young or old looking up to.
The feminist in me is pleased to see a character like Enola Holmes on the screen; she is not merely Sherlock in a dress, she is her own character who can stand on her own and do everything a man can do and many things better than one. She is a part of Sherlock’s world but is not defined or confined by it. Enola makes her own world. By the film’s end, Enola has found her freedom and her purpose — she is a detective and a finder of lost souls. A new feminist icon and, I hope, a franchise in the making.
Enola Holmes is available now on Netflix
Lizzie streams every Sunday evening over on the Bunkazilla UK Twitch