Directed by Harry Bradbeer, Enola Holmes is a moderately entertaining and cliché-ridden film starring Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes, the 16-year-old sister of renowned detective Sherlock Holmes.
The film is based on the young adult series, The Enola Holmes Mysteries, by Nancy Springer. As such, it has the same drawbacks as other films based on young adult novels — it’s a bit simplistic and pretentious. The story is that Enola Holmes takes after Sherlock in that she’s incredibly smart. But while the film keeps insisting that she’s a genius, she doesn’t do much to display that intelligence. Sure, she solves some anagrams and yes, she’s resourceful — but that’s about it. On the day she turns 16, Enola wakes up in an empty house. Her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) has disappeared. This forces her brothers to return.
Enola was raised by her mother while her brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, were away for many years making their careers. Mycroft (Sam Claflin) is a stuffy man with a government job, and is Enola’s legal guardian. Meanwhile, Sherlock (Henry Cavill), has made headlines as a private investigator, and believes in Enola’s gifts more than his brother. When they meet their sister, they don’t recognise her, having not seen her in many years.
Like so many other fictional female heroes from the Victorian era, Enola is headstrong and an independent thinker. Her mother has raised her to forge her own path, rather than get married and make babies. While this characterisation of a young feminist is important, Enola Holmes treats it like a giant cliché.
Millie Bobby Brown is charismatic and fun to watch in Enola Holmes. But she’s stuck in a heavy-handed and cliche-ridden film
Mycroft, shocked by the state of his sister, immediately wants to make a lady out of her. He decides to send her away to a finishing school, led by a lady who slaps Enola for questioning her. Enola, finally showing some of the intelligence the narrative insists she has, deciphers a rudimentary puzzle to realise that her mother is in London.
Enola skips town disguised as a young Sherlock and takes a train to London to look for her mother. On the train, she finds another young person who has run away. His name is Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), and he is a boy from an affluent family who also wants to forge his own path. Unfortunately for Viscount, someone on the train wants to murder him. Enola helps him escape and the two begin to flirt casually. Clearly, Viscount likes free-spirited women.
At this stage I was rolling my eyes so much, I resembled the possessed soul from The Exorcist. It’s a tired trope in films like this where a young woman is told that she can’t find a man because she’s too independent, and soon after she meets a man interested in her because of that very quality. It’s clear that the writers of these films were head-banging Jane Austen films since they were young children. Sadly, the in-your-face narratives they produce lack the nuance of an Austen book.
Next, the film takes us to London. Admittedly, the costume and set design are good. If you’re interested in Victorian London, then you may enjoy the atmosphere of the second and third acts in Enola Holmes. However, the film’s heavy-handed presentation of London as an idyllic and magical city full of character and grit was just too nauseating for me to swallow. Frankly, I’ve seen enough films romanticising old London to last a lifetime.
The characterisations in Enola Holmes are weak. All four members of the Holmes family are cookie-cutter characters. Thankfully, Millie Bobby Brown’s performance is excellent. She is charismatic and fun to watch. Her performance is almost too good for the script. Ultimately, Enola Holmes wants to be this clever and sardonic film but it’s just too heavy-handed.
Rated PG-13 for some violence
Published in Dawn, ICON, October 4th, 2020