Director: Harry Bradbeer
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Adeel Akhtar
Providing children with a heroine that they can look up to, and their parents with enough thematic meat to chew on, Netflix’s Enola Holmes is an energetic and empowering update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic stories, for Gen Z.
While millennials made do with Benedict Cumberbatch’s considerably more conspiratorial Sherlock — a brilliant series that captured an entire generation’s fears and anxieties and projected them onto one of the most celebrated fictional characters of all time — Enola Holmes, like the teenagers towards whom it is targeted, is more hopeful for the future.
Watch the Enola Holmes trailer here
Set in a smoggy, muddy Victorian London, the film has the spirit of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as if it were written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Enola Holmes begins with the titular heroine, played by the very endearing Millie Bobby Brown, breaking the fourth wall, à la Fleabag. She does this on numerous occasions in the film, most memorably when she disguises herself as a widow (because people are uncomfortable around death, and therefore less likely to be suspicious of her) and declares, proud of her own ingenuity, “’Tis I!”
Enola is intelligent, but never insufferable; she’s confident, but not completely immune to self-doubt. She’s a fully realised person. And that’s all down to the writing, and Millie Bobby Brown’s performance.
The young actor seems to have secured a franchise for herself, which will serve her well when Stranger Things ends. And much like Enola, it’s an opportunity that she created for herself. Brown is making her debut as a producer on the project, which is just wonderful.
As the sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, described in one scene as ‘an uneducated, underdressed, poorly mannered wildling’, Enola was raised by her mother, Eudoria, while her more illustrious brothers abandoned the family and went to make their marks in London. But when Eudoria mysteriously goes missing one morning, Enola must rely on her own abilities, and not her pompous brothers (neither of whom have seen Enola in years), to locate her.
Mycroft, who assumes the responsibility of her guardianship after Eudoria’s disappearance, scoffs at the feminist values that she has instilled in Enola. “Where is your hat?” he asks her, “And your gloves?” He decides to immediately send her off to a finishing school, while him and Sherlock take over the adult responsibilities. Enola isn’t having any of it.
So she gives them the slip one day, and hops aboard the first train to London, leaving Sherlock to wryly admire her spunk, and Mycroft to menacingly twirl his moustache. On her journey, she runs into another runaway, and together, the two bond over their abandonment issues and uncover a political conspiracy that could change the course of England’s history.
On occasions, Enola Holmes certainly has a tendency to come across as a piece of fan fiction, which is technically what the source novels by Nancy Springer were. And if you consider the fact that the film has been written by Jack Thorne, the man behind glorified Harry Potter fan-fic the Cursed Child, you begin to notice parallels.
Along with director Harry Bradbeer (who helmed all but one episode of Fleabag), Thorne brings the sort of earnest innocence to Enola that reminded me of the first Harry Potter film — it was always going to spawn sequels, but not at the expense of giving fans a good time. Thorne’s screenplays often have certain rote qualities, but I mean this as a compliment — to me, he’s simply relying on proven storytelling techniques.
Enola Holmes is unnecessarily convoluted, but that doesn’t really matter, because even if you might find yourself losing interest in the central mystery, you’re always invested in the characters and the relationships. The stakes are huge, but the film smartly focuses on Enola’s personal growth. Everything, including Henry Cavill’s rather unremarkable turn as Sherlock, and Sam Claflin’s considerably more animated performance as Mycroft, is in service to Enola’s journey. These characters, including Helena Bonham Carter’s Eudoria, will presumably be given more to do in future instalments.
The next couple of years will change Netflix’s perception in the market. What we’re seeing is a culmination of a plan that was set into motion many moons ago. With both serious awards contenders and franchise fare on offer, the streamer finally seems to have established itself, in 2020, as a legit studio. I wish they’d implement a similar approach in India, instead of chasing the stars, so to speak.