I admit that I am not an avid follower of Sherlock Holmes. While I have seen From Hell and both of the Robert Downey Jr. movies, I’ve only watched a few episodes of PBS’s Sherlock. I have not watched any episodes of Elementary. Even with my limited exposure to the character, I understand him well enough to be able to follow along with the plot of Enola Holmes.
Enola Holmes (played by Millie Bobby Brown) expands the Sherlock universe by adding a heretofore unknown younger sister. When Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and his brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin) leave home, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), their mother raises Enola on her own in their country estate. Eudoria teaches Enloa everything but how to be a proper lady in society, including archery, tennis, jujitsu, chemistry and so on. Enola is an avid reader, and reads all of the books in the estate’s library.
One morning, Enola wakes up to find her mother has left home. In her wake, Eudoria leaves Enola a gift package, and Enola quickly discerns clues she can use to find her mother. Since Mycroft is the elder brother, Enola is his ward, and must abide by his wishes. He sizes her up as a wild animal and wants to send her to a harsh finishing school for young girls. Sherlock does not agree with his brother’s plan, but goes along with it anyway.
Since Enola is only fourteen, she trades clothes with a young boy so that she can travel to London without being harassed. On the train, she befriends and ultimately saves Lord Tewkesbury. She likes him, but once they reach London she leaves him behind. (Her mother warned her not to be taken with boys, since they are essentially a handsome distraction.)
Once in London, Enola first sets out to find her mother, but when she realizes how much danger Lord Tewkesbury is in, changes course and helps him out instead. In the end, Lord Tewkesbury is saved, Enola is briefly reunited with her mother, and becomes Sherlock’s ward instead. All’s well that ends well, in other words.
Enola Holmes is definitely a young adult take on the Sherlock Holmes mythology. Enola shares Sherlock’s keen attention to detail and perfect recall of past events. Unlike Sherlock, she is a person of action, fighting Tewkesbury’s assassin, confronting Tewksbury’s family over why he ran away from home. Sherlock is portrayed as pleasant and charming, but essentially a passive puzzle-solver.
Generally, the men around Enola do not come off well. The story has a decidedly feminist bent that was a bit heavy-handed at times. Enola initially writes off Tewkesbury as a dreamy doofus. Sherlock, while a well regarded member of society, is completely oblivious to the societal issues of his time. Mycroft is portrayed as a harsh control freak, insisting that Enola’s will be broken so that she can ultimately be married off. I don’t understand why he is so surprised that Enola has a mind of her own. As a man of means and education, surely he’d be familiar with the works of Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters.
Unlike other Holmes incarnations, Enola is more than willing to get her hands dirty, figuratively and literally. The movie shows her with dirt on her face and her clothes many times to emphasize that Enola is a different kind of Holmes. To emphasize her tomboyishness, she disguises herself as a boy.
Interestingly enough, Enola Holmes shares a few thematic elements with the preceding Robert Downey Jr. movies. She can hold her own in a fistfight, and wears different clothes to throw others off her trail and while detecting. Both are outsiders who, while comfortable in their own skin and profess to not caring about fitting into society, still attempt to do so.
Unlike the Downey Jr. films, which seemed to revel in grit, grime and general ugliness, Enola Holmes is practically a love letter to the English countryside and London. The scenes outside the Holmes and Tewkesbury estates are breathtaking. Even London is shown to be an exciting theme park of a city, filled with colorful and mostly non-threatening characters.
I’m not sure if the movie was influenced by the “Millennials versus Boomers” arguments being made in the media over the past several years, but the villain behind the plot to kill young Lord Tewkesbury, as well as his father, turns out to be the Dowager of the Tewkesbury family. Viewed today, it’s another indictment of those dastardly Boomers, always thwarting reform at every turn.
Henry Cavill is very good as Sherlock, in what is just a supporting role. If there ever is a sequel, I’d hope he gets more to do than he did in this movie. With his work here and in Mission:Impossible – Fallout and The Witcher, I’m surprised his take on Superman was so ineffectual.
Helena Bonham Carter has been doing excellent work in supporting roles for a long time now. Her evolution from saucy vamp (or crazy vamp) to characters of substance is a welcome one.
Ultimately, Enola Holmes is very charming and engaging, but not consequential. The reform bill that is eventually passed is never discussed in detail. The reason why Enola’s mother left home is never really explained. I suspected that Eudoria and her band of ladies were plotting to blow up Parliament if the reform bill was not passed, in a nod to Guy Fawkes, but that’s just a guess. Enola Holmes is one of the better Netflix movies released over the last several years, but Masterpiece Theatre it is not. Lightly recommended.