Raise your hand if you knew legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes had a sister? I didn’t. But then again, I grew up in the Nancy Drew era. I wasn’t aware of the emergence of the Nancy Springer young adult book series “The Enola Holmes Mysteries,” starting with “The Case of the Missing Marquess” (2006). Those books, and the Enola Holmes movie, honor the Sherlock Holmes canon (launched by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887) while offering up a fresh, female perspective designed to inspire and empower girls and young women. Now let me clue you in:
The story takes place in 1884 England. The women’s suffrage movement is gaining momentum. And Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”) is about to turn 16. But on the occasion of her birthday, she awakens to find her eccentric feminist mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) is nowhere to be found. She’s left behind an odd assortment of gifts, but no apparent clues as to where she went, or why. Enola suddenly finds herself under the care of her older brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill, Man of Steel, Mission Impossible – Fallout) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin, Me Before You, The Hunger Games) who are both inclined to send her away to boarding school to learn how to be a “proper lady.” You see, Eudoria raised Enola to be a free spirit and reject societal expectations dictated by a misogynistic world. Screw the corsets and crochet. And bring on the analytical thinking, gamesmanship, wit, and sass. And anagrams. Lots and lots of anagrams.
As much as I would have loved to see more of Cavill as a softening Sherlock (I mean, who wouldn’t?), I get that this is Enola’s super-sleuth story. Her brothers are left largely behind as Enola escapes to London to search for her mother. Along the way, she gets entangled in a mystery surrounding a runaway Lord – Viscount Tewkesbury, the Marquis of Basilwether (Louis Partridge, Medici, Paddington 2) and decides she must help save him, because – Enola is quite sure – she is made of much stronger stuff than he. We know this because we know all along exactly what Enola is thinking. She often addresses the camera directly, breaking the fourth wall to deliver a cheeky comment or knowing smirk. It’s a narrative device that first-time feature film director Harry Bradbeer often employs in the popular TV show “Fleabag.” For the most part, it works fine to enhance the screenplay by Jack Thorne (Radioactive). Millie Bobby Brown is perfectly cast as Enola – a role that Brown actually cast herself in, by forming a production company with her sister and parents to get the movie made.
In terms of plot, I will keep the rest under wraps, as this is a mystery that you are supposed to watch unravel. It runs a smidge over two hours and gets a bit bogged down in the second half as twin mysteries and historical context compete for attention (and I yearn for more Cavill). But as dysfunctional family coming-of-age dramas go, Enola Holmes offers a refreshing change of pace. I don’t know how the rest of the books play out, but now that we’ve “met” Enola, I wouldn’t mind some friendly sibling competition or cooperation in future mystery adventures involving the family Holmes. Who needs Watson when you’ve got a smart, cool sister? The games are afoot!