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Enola Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes spin-off works better as a family film than a canon story

The Sherlock Holmes IP has allowed a steady production of adaptations since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first published his mystery entries in the late 19th century. We’ve had countless film adaptations with famed thespians taking up the titular role. After so many editions of the same character, it is hard to deliver a fresh spin. The BBC series Sherlock (2010-) was able to do so by placing its protagonist in modern times, Mr. Holmes (2015) cast Ian McKellen as the elder detective, solving his last mystery. Netflix’s Enola Holmes (2020) is the latest attempt at revitalizing the ancient IP with a new perspective, this time, that of Sherlock’s little sister.

Enola Holmes is not adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle story, rather the inspired books set in the same universe by Nancy Springer. Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) is much younger than her two genius brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin). She lives alone, with her widowed mother (Helena Bonham-Carter) who educates Enola in unusual ways for women in the 19th century. However, one day Enola’s mother disappears leaving a trail of clues. Enola must search for her father while avoiding Mycroft’s attempts at putting her in a boarding school.

The film is a clever way at spinning a female empowerment story into that of the relishing mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Director Harry Bradbeer is able to provide a spruced-up tone and tempo that will remind many of Bradbeer’s previous work in Fleabag (2016-2019); Enola also frequently breaks the fourth wall with viewers. Bradbeer also has a charismatic and likeable actress in the lead with Bobby Brown, who sheds off the darker tones of Stranger Things (2016) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), for the lighter and more comedic rhythm of Enola Holmes. Bobby Brown has much work to do as the protagonist, since the supporting players show up scarcely; viewers rely mainly on Enola’s narration to carry the story forward. Thankfully, Bobby Brown shows that she’s an incredibly versatile actress, performing as if she had been in comedy for decades. Certainly, the lead actress’ enthusiasm for the narrative becomes contagious for viewers, even if the actual script doesn’t demand it.

Enola Holmes is written by Jack Thorne, who has previously adapted such coveted IP as Harry Potter (for the stage version The Cursed Child) and the HBO series His Dark Materials (2019). Both of these earlier works have been uneven, always seeming more like fanfiction than canon. The same seems to apply to Enola Holmes. The central story and mystery feel too watered down to feel like Conan Doyle’s. Thorne frequently drops catchphrases and hints at the source material, but the adventure feels too small and simplistic to warrant a true comparison to Sherlock’s investigations. The feminist messaging behind the film walks a wobbling fine line between preachy and effective, seeming to equally fall on both sides of the spectrum, so that nothing fully delivers.

Bradbeer and his cast cover these watered-down aspects with a springy cheerfulness that proves infectious and malleable. This tone helps distance the story from the grimmer Conan Doyle prose and finds its own footing. Once viewers have accepted the different aura that Enola Holmes elicits, one can be carried away into an inoffensive family film.

Enola Holmes’ main objective doesn’t seem to be to argue with the previous portrayals of Sherlock (Henry Cavill plays him too likeably, in fact), instead focus is given to providing a new female hero for young viewers admire. In this aspect the film triumphs, specifically because the narrative is simple and cheerful enough to follow. While many Sherlock Holmes fans may be disappointed, the uninitiated might certainly be intrigued.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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