Published Sep 28, 2020There's a certain kind of film where the lead character breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience isn't irritating and tiresome. Thankfully, Enola Holmes is one of them. From the outset, this addition to the notoriously inconsistent batch of Netflix films feels as though we are going on an adventure with our protagonist instead of merely watching her have one, and, through her various addresses to us, Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) invites us to and involves us in the game of it all. It shouldn't work, but it does, and this, in a nutshell, this why Enola Holmes is such a winner.
Adapted from the first of Nancy Springer's novels featuring Sherlock Holmes's little sister (The Case of the Missing Marquess), Enola Holmes features Brown as the title character: an eccentric wild child and budding polymath raised in in the Holmes' home of Ferndell Hall by her weird, brilliant and singular mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). When her mother disappears on Enola's 16th birthday, the game is afoot, and Enola goes searching for her — upsetting her oldest brother and new guardian Mycroft (Sam Claflin), who seeks to "break" her and make her a lady, and amusing her other brother, Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who wants everyone to be found unharmed and also feels pangs of regret at not being appropriately involved in his sister's life.
When Enola deciphers some clues left for her to find by her mother, she heads to London, and on the way gets wrapped up in the narrative of another disappearance, that of the teenaged Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), whom she helps avoid capture by a mysterious man in a bowler hat. Later, after having some adventures and misadventures in the city on the way to learning more about her mother's extracurricular interests, Enola decides that Tewkesbury needs her more than her mother might, and proceeds to abandon one missing person case for another.
That the bold, brave, and irrepressible young woman repeatedly tasks herself with rescuing the gentle young man who is well-versed in flowers and other plants is only one of this film's subversive and/or gender-swapping elements. Every few minutes we are reminded, sometimes cleverly and sometimes clumsily, of the feminist underpinnings of the proceedings. (Part of the story involves a vote on a historic reform bill vis-à-vis women's suffrage.) It's hard to miss, but doesn't chafe. It's pretty refreshing, actually.
Watching a film like Enola Holmes from a critical perspective within our current reality is a strange experience. The film is quite entertaining and very likeable, but also flawed in a lot of ways. Is it my job to talk about the joys and the flaws equally, then? Maybe, but regardless of the answer, I won't, since the results are so enjoyable. It's both soothing and exciting to watch familiar characters like Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes in unfamiliar contexts, and it's quite an experience to just meet Enola. Millie Bobby Brown is delightful, and this is the perfect kind of vehicle to distinguish her as a bona fide star on the rise (and distinguish her from her Stranger Things character). Outside of Brown, the rest of the cast offer fun moments and fine moments, and, since we're living in the middle of such an anxiety-inducing time, sometimes you really just need to spend two hours watching someone else raging against the machine and/or the dying of the light. (Netflix)