REVIEW: Netflix’s Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes film

Enola Holmes introduces a clever, capable, and charismatic heroine who learns to thrive in a world determined to underestimate her.

The Netflix film adaptation of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes Mysteries stars Millie Bobby Brown in the title role and she shines as the younger sister of the renowned detective. The film is an engaging adventure that audiences of all ages can enjoy and that manages to bring a fresh spin on the Sherlock Holmes canon. Brown is very much the star of the show as the inimitable Enola and she proves every bit as brilliant (or if not more so) than her famous brother.

Enola HolmesFor the most part, the film follows the plot of the first book: on the morning of Enola Holmes’ sixteenth birthday, her mother, Eudoria, chooses to disappear, leaving an enigmatic coded message to her only daughter. With the news of their mother’s mysterious disappearance, Enola’s two older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, arrive to investigate and they meet their younger sister for the first time in ten years. While Sherlock puzzles over his mother’s absence and gets reacquainted with his sister, Mycroft is determined to make a “proper lady” of Enola by sending her off to boarding school to prepare her for a suitable marriage.

As expected, the headstrong and intelligent Miss Holmes refuses to be controlled. When she discovers that her mother left her some significant financial resources with which to facilitate an independent existence, Enola escapes her brothers and makes her way to London. While trying to hide from her brothers, she gets embroiled in a sinister scheme to murder a young marquess and she also discovers more of her mother’s clandestine political activities. As she makes her way in the world, Enola Holmes also begins to understand who she truly is and what she is meant to do.

The film boasts of the sumptuous production values one expects of a period piece with a Netflix budget. There’s beautiful cinematography for both the scenes shot on location and the elaborate sets constructed for the 19th century setting. At times, the CGI does feel a bit too clean but it may be attributed to the film trying to tone down the grit and gore for younger viewers. Costumes and make-up are also impressive, particularly considering the different elaborate disguises the main character has to don in the course of one film. Daniel Pemberton’s music utilizes orchestral accompaniment that feels appropriate to the time period and it provides the same jaunty, upbeat energy that reflects the youthful energy of the protagonist.

Enola Holmes also succeeds because of the strength of its cast, not just the spirited and compelling Brown, but also of her brothers, played with gusto by Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin, their mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter making the most of her few but pivotal scenes, and a supporting cast of some of the best of British drama, notably Fiona Shaw as the mistress of a boarding school, Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade, Susie Wokoma as feminist fighter, Burn Gorman as an assassin, Claire Rushbrook as Mrs. Lane, and Frances de la Tour as the Dowager. Dr. Watson is conspicuous by his absence but perhaps the filmmakers are saving him for a future film.

Louis Partridge plays the only other young character in the story and his portrayal is credible enough although the somewhat romantic subplot between him and Enola is one of the least engaging parts of the film. His role is more important as a part of the major mystery of the film and fortunately the film did not end with them getting together, even if there are hints of mutual affection between them. It is important to emphasize the independence of the heroine and how she can do very well on her own.

Enola HolmesOne interesting feature of the film is the Enola’s occasional breaking of the fourth wall, cheekily addressing the audience as she goes about her adventures. Given that the books were written mostly in the first person perspective, using this device for the film makes sense to emphasize the centrality of the heroine. Breaking the fourth wall is tricky to balance but fortunately Brown is charming and dynamic enough to pull it off without making it seem like too much of a gimmick. It helps audience have a better sense of what she is thinking and feeling, something that is easier to show in a book than a film, and it makes some of the emotional beats more effective.

Enola HolmesAnother intriguing feature of the film is its exploration of the Holmes family dynamics, particularly the contrast between the male and female members of the family. This is tackled in detail in the books but the film does a good job of laying the groundwork for future interactions. Though given the genre of the film, there are mysteries being investigated which are not necessarily unconnected to the main characters, some of the more affecting parts of the film are the different relationships among the Holmes siblings.

Though we don’t see much of Eudoria, her influence on her daughter is prevalent throughout the course of the story and one already senses the tension between her and her sons. Enola’s complex relationships with her brothers also comes into play in the film. While Mycroft upholds the more traditional role that society has prescribed for him and seeks to play the patriarch, especially in his decisions about Enola’s future, Sherlock is more detached and also more flexible.

Sherlock and Enola’s evolving relationship is a highlight of the film with the former gradually recognizing himself in his younger sister and coming to admire her ingenuity and boldness. While Sherlock is initially reluctant to take responsibility for Enola, he also realizes that she is a young person in need of guidance and she has long followed his career and has a profound admiration for him. But she also isn’t afraid to challenge him on his traditional beliefs and to assert her independence even to someone of whom she is very fond. The progression of this relationship will be something to watch for in future installments.

Enola Holmes also rises above its fellow period dramas by including a diverse cast, passing the Bechdel test several times over, portraying well-rounded female characters, and even including male characters who do not adhere to standards of toxic masculinity. Such a film proves that great entertainment value and diversity and feminism can co-exist and more films should follow suit.

Enola HolmesEnola is a good role model for young girls not only because she can fight, disguise herself in different costumes, and decipher complex codes, but also because she is compassionate, caring, and ultimately flawed. She isn’t some paragon of beauty and perfection who sets an impossible standard to live up to but instead a fully fleshed-out character with her own fears and foibles who is nevertheless able to overcome various obstacles through her courage and conviction.

Though the main mystery of the film is neatly resolved, the state of the Holmes family remains uncertain. Eudoria remains at large while Enola makes her own way in the world and her brothers are still trying to find them both. While it would be exciting to see both Enola and Sherlock working on cases together, this collaboration is being set up for future installments of the series. And given how thrilling this introductory chapter was, it is clear that Netflix has a promising film franchise in the making.

Enola Holmes has just begun her journey and we are already eager to join her in her next adventure.