Enola Holmes (United Kingdom/United States, 2020)

September 23, 2020
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Enola Holmes Poster

If I was looking for a single word to describe Enola Holmes, I’d probably settle on “charming.” That’s not because it features the best example of period-piece romance (although it shows signs of appealing to the rom-com crowd) or that it offers a satisfying mystery resolution (in fact, that’s one of its most glaring problems). Rather, it’s because the whole thing has been assembled with an almost-impossible to dislike rambunctious energy. As the title character, Millie Bobbie Brown shines in a way she hasn’t in her non-Stranger Things appearances.

The film gets its inspiration from the series of novels written by Nancy Springer that postulate the existence of Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister. Because she’s much younger than both her famous detective older brother (Henry Cavill) and her even older government representative sibling, Mycroft (Sam Claflin), she has had little connection with either, opting instead for an unconventional upbringing at the hands of her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). But she’s got the Holmes nose for investigations and, when her mother disappears, she starts looking and is even a step ahead of Sherlock. She stumbles into another mystery as well, this one focused on the attempted murder of Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge). But there’s a problem: Enola is underage and her new guardian, Mycroft, wants her in a finishing school rather than running around London hunting down an assassin (Burn Gorman) and ransacking her mother’s unsavory history.

While Millie Bobby Brown has enough charisma to keep the film’s focus on Enola, she’s constantly fighting to emerge from Sherlock’s long shadow. The movie might have worked better had his appearance been relegated to a cameo. By casting an A-list actor (Cavill) in the role and having him show up occasionally during the course of the proceedings, it upsets the narrative balance. There’s an ongoing expectation that Sherlock is going to do something significant. When that doesn’t happen (because, after all, this isn’t his movie), it’s a bit of a letdown. That’s not a knock on Brown; it’s a storytelling issue. What’s more, when one thinks of Holmes, it’s hard to get past the image of Jeremy Brett (or, if you’re older, Basil Rathbone). Of the recent crop of Holmeses, Benedict “Doctor Strange” Cumberbatch has done the best job of capturing the character (forget Robert “Iron Man” Downey Jr. – his interpretation is a lot fun but it’s not Holmes). Henry “Superman” Cavill may be the worst of all of them – too empathetic, too slow-witted, too handsome, and altogether too human. His presence rivals the predictable simplicity of the film’s mystery elements as Enola Holmes’ worst misstep.

The movie feels like the pilot for a TV series or, failing that, the would-be first film of a planned series. That’s likely more a result of the source material than the production but I’m sure the filmmakers would be delighted if it proved to be a hit and opened the door for additional chapters. As origin stories go, this one is sufficiently engaging. It establishes the characters and sets up the direction for future installments but is rather thin as a stand-alone. Still, there’s the “charming” factor, and it’s hard to deny. Some movies work better than one might expect them to do given various shortcomings, and this is one of them. Chalk it up to star power. Brown has it. She uses it to its maximum advantage whether her character is involved in romantic repartee with Louis Partridge, deductive duels with Cavill, mother-daughter bonding with Helena Bonham-Carter, or physical action sequences. Enola Holmes is a good start; I’d like to see a follow-up – only this time, get a real mystery writer involved at the screenplay stage.

Enola Holmes (United Kingdom/United States, 2020)

Run Time: 2:03
U.S. Release Date: 2020-09-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1