Another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on cinema, “Enola Holmes” was slated to be a potential big-screen franchise started for Warner Bros. in 2020 taking inspiration from the first book in Nancy Springer’s series of the same name that puts the spotlight on the younger sister of the famed detective Sherlock Holmes. While it didn’t make it to the big screen Netflix stepped in to make sure the movie remained on the 2020 slate and good thing too because it’s possibly one of the most enjoyable movies of the year to date. Starring Millie Bobby Brown in the titular role as Enola as she attempts to discover the whereabouts and fate of her missing mother, “Enola Holmes” doesn’t redefine the genre or really the Sherlock Holmes property, but is certainly provides the breath of fresh air detective films and the franchise desperately needed.
“Enola Holmes” follows the titular character (Millie Bobby Brown) through her first major adventure as she seeks to discover the fate of her mother who went missing without warning. Along the way she becomes embroiled in a mystery involving the attempted murder of a young lord named Tewkesbury (Louis Partrige) while trying to avoid her brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) who seek to send her to a women’s school to be taught how to be a proper lady. The resulting adventure is one of the single most entertaining pieces of film 2020 has offered, even with the lack of big budget releases due to the pandemic. The casting for this movie is mostly well done and the pacing, mystery, costumes, and unapologetic use of fourth wall breaks to bring the audience right into the narrative all create an engaging experience that’s fun, jolly and, for me at least, proved to be irresistable.
Right away the movie grabs your attention as Millie Bobby Brown introduces us to Enola and who she is. Throughout the film Enola occasionally breaks the fourth wall, sometimes through blatant discussion with the viewer and sometimes through literal winks and nods. Brown is absolutely excellent in this movie! She’s charming, witty, and looks like she’s having a whole lot of fun doing it. She injects so much life into this film right from the first moment she’s on screen and never lets up. This is the kind of character we hole Enola would be. She’s the perfect third piece to the Holmes trio. While Mycroft is the serious and proper gentleman and Sherlock the professional with a cunning mind for detail, Enola’s skills lie in her ability to read people and between the lines both literal and figurative. She’s an energetic rebel who Brown perfectly portrays and her fourth wall breaks feel genuine as if every word is meant specifically for you. She just sells it and it’s pure adventure cinema gold.
While the rest of the cast fails to reach this same energy or perfection, they’re not really supposed to. Henry Cavill, who plays Enola’s famous brother Sherlock, might not necessarily be the most obvious or best choice for the role but in a strange way that works for this movie. Cavill as Sherlock feels kind of odd, maybe mismatched, which forces the viewer to put more attention on Enola. Cavill still does a fine job with the character making for a likable big brother to Enola, but the casting feels purposeful in order to allow Enola to overshadow everyone because, after all, we are following her adventure literally looking over her shoulder every step of the way. Other actors feels more appropriately cast like Helena Boneham Carter as the Holmes sibling’s mother or Sam Claflin as the well-meaning but stern Mycroft Holmes, but they too feel downplayed to benefit Enola’s story without being lost in the shuffle. This movie knows how to use its secondary and side characters well and that’s a compliment to the writing, casting and direction to make sure Enola is front and center with a memorable cast around her.
But good casting doesn’t always make for a good movie. It has to have a fun or engrossing narrative and be paced properly to really pay off and, as previously mentioned, “Enola Holmes” is both. I never turned away from this film. I was engaged the entire time trying to understand the mystery, how would Enola get out of her predicaments and how was she going to get to the next piece of the puzzle? The film starts off acting like it’s going to go in one direction but quickly shifts gears in a manner that doesn’t feel jarring or forced, it just kind of happens and you’re happy to be along for the ride through those twists and turns. It reminded me only a little of the Guy Ritchie “Sherlock Holmes” movies but, dare I say, much more perfected in its art of presenting a mystery in an interesting way. It also forgoes sluggish storytelling and effects for a more straight forward, fast paced, virtually non-stop narrative that still finds time to breath and to focus on the heartfelt and socially significant themes at the core of Enola’s first adventure.
And that brings me to movie’s themes and writing which for me was excellent and subtle but still very poignant in what it had to say. This is all about Enola escaping her shell, finding her own identity and understanding her place in the world. Her adventure brings her to solve a mystery involving a reform bill for women’s rights in the United Kingdom which feels like a perfect setup for her first case seeing as Enola herself is a woman trying to escape the forced roles and concept of being a “proper lady” being thrust upon her by her brothers. The film doesn’t beat you over the head with its commentary either. All of the themes are built into Enola’s character growth and arc making them big parts of the story as much as they are important nods to the audience about the significance of women’s suffrage and being able to choose your own path despite the world trying to tell you no. These are important concepts that aren’t overplayed and aren’t lost in all the fun this film has to offer which is how it should be really. Not too much, not to little, just the right amount of commentary, class and entertainment.
“Enola Holmes” is excellent. I just loved it. The theming, pacing, acting, the costume designs, the writing, the mystery itself…all of it combined to create one absolutely awesome package. While we’ve seen some movies like “Knives Out” help usher in a rebirth of the detective/mystery genre in recent years, “Enola Holmes” proves without the shadow of a doubt that there’s still plenty left in these stories worth exploring. Complimented by an outstandingly charming turn by Millie Bobby Brown, careful and controlled direction by Harry Bradbeer and fun writing by the talented Jack Thorne, “Enola Jones” is one compelling, enjoyable, non-stop adventure you don’t want to miss.