ENOLA HOLMES (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: When Enola Holmes—Sherlock’s teen sister—discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.
Before you scoff that ‘Enola Holmes’ is just an exercise in female revisionism in the MeToo era, let us reassure you that it is indeed so much more. Oh yes, while the timing of this spinoff of Sherlock Holmes is not coincidental, this adaptation of the popular young-adult series from Nancy Springer proves to be witty, pacey and utterly delightful.
Much of that credit belongs to Millie Bobby Brown who plays the titular character with such exuberance that you cannot help but be won over. You’d of course recognise Brown as ‘Eleven’ in ‘Stranger Things’, but unlike that role, this one as Enola allows her to display her hitherto unseen comic timing – and let’s just say it is pitch perfect.
As the first of what could potentially be a franchise, it is somewhat inevitable that ‘Enola Holmes’ confines itself to the mould of an origin story. A good part of the storytelling is therefore dedicated to Enola’s coming-of-age, after her independent-minded mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears on her sixteenth birthday. Than accept the fate of being sent away to finishing school, Enola hops onto a train bound for London to find her mother, following a series of clues which Eudoria had left behind.
While on the train, Enola runs into the handsome young lord Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge); though a runaway, Lord Tewksbury is pursued by a mysterious man in a brown bowler hat hired to kill him. Enola helps Tewksbury escape, and soon becomes the man’s target herself, an excuse really for Enola to show off her physical combat skills which her mother had home-schooled her in over regular afternoon lessons in the woods.
Like the Guy Ritchie film series, the narrative here is simply intended as window dressing; in fact, you shouldn’t at all be perturbed that the plotting seems to be spinning around you in circles, for it is ultimately intended so you won’t pay too much attention at the conveniences and contrivances in between. What director Harry Bradbeer wants is that you remain enraptured by Enola every step of the way, as she frequently breaks the fourth wall to speak direct to us or shoot knowing looks in our direction; and on his part, Bradbeer employs a zippy scrapbook style to the storytelling, keeping the pace jaunty and fleet-footed throughout a successfully swift two hours.
While Brown ably anchors the entire enterprise from start to finish, she is also assisted by a thoroughly debonair Henry Cavill as Sherlock and a suitably uptight Sam Claflin as her lesser-known brother Mycroft. We wish there were more of Bonham-Carter, because the actress brings such poignant soul as Enola’s mother, whose choice to leave turns out to be one carefully balanced between ideals and motherhood. The other outstanding supporting players among the ensemble include Fiona Shaw as the headmistress of the finishing-school, Susie Wakoma as a jujitsu teacher and Eudoria’s close friend, and Frances de la Tour as Lord Tewksbury’s grandmother.
That the list is filled with such a strong female cast is not a coincidence; if it isn’t yet obvious, there is clearly a feminist message here, using a young woman’s search for herself to draw relevance with women’s suffrage as well as contemporary issues of gender equality by extension. Thankfully, Brown doesn’t play up the girl-power ethos excessively, bringing cheek, warmth and game to the titular role that turns out just as fascinating as it should.
‘Enola Holmes’ is no doubt intended as a franchise starter, but the fact that you’ll be welcoming the next one with glee is testament to what the filmmakers here, as well as Brown, has done right with this first movie. It isn’t on the same scale as say Ritchie’s ‘Holmes’ duology or the ‘Kingsman’ series, but it packs enough cracking good fun and thrills to qualify as an unmitigated win for Netflix. Among the many, many originals this year, we dare say this is probably one of the most entertaining we’ve seen. .
Review by Gabriel Chong