Sherlock Holmes is one of fiction’s most famous and beloved characters, and since his introduction, he has taken on many forms in popular media. Growing up, I was a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which is why when the film Enola Holmes came to Netflix, I couldn’t wait to watch it. Not only did it bring some much needed female presence to male-dominated source material, but the titular character was played by Stranger Things’s iconic Millie Bobby Brown.
In Enola Holmes, the spotlight is moved away from Sherlock and cast onto his secret younger sister, Enola. Enola, whose name flipped backwards spells alone, grew up in isolation with her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Eudoria, as one can imagine, is far from the conventional mother; she teaches Enola chess, science, tennis and jujitsu instead of the typical skills girls learned at the time. Enola, as a result, has grown up to be intelligent, shrewd and talented. On her sixteenth birthday, Eudoria disappears, which brings Enola’s brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) back home for the first time in several years. Mycroft, the more insidious brother, threatens to send her to finishing school, but the day before, Enola runs away to escape this fate and look for her mother. In the process, she gets involved in another mystery when she meets Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), another runaway, who is being pursued by an assassin.
This movie was just so much fun. Although Enola is quite different from the more subdued Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown captures her energetic, whimsical, clever nature to perfection. This was primarily what made the movie so enjoyable, because I felt that I was able to get to know Enola quite well. Not only through her excellent portrayal, but through the unique way she broke the fourth wall and narrated her own story. Indeed, from the very first line, when Enola looks right at the camera and asks, “Now, where to begin?” I was immediately drawn into the movie. And Enola’s characterization only improved from there, as the movie tossed her into different scenarios, and we were able to learn a more about her through how she reasoned her way out of them.
It wasn’t only Brown’s acting that was superb; all of the characters were extremely well casted and had fantastic chemistry with each other. As such, the interactions were particularly memorable. From Enola’s witty repartee with Tewksbury (a relationship that wasn’t necessarily romantic, which was a pleasant change from the typical boy/girl dynamic in movies) to Edith’s conversation with Sherlock about politics and privilege — particularly relevant in today’s world — it was clear that the actors put a lot of effort into their roles, which shone onscreen.
However, with so much time being spent on Enola’s personal journey, I found that the plot itself was a bit disappointing. Enola Holmes is marketed as a mystery, but for much of the movie, I actually thought I was watching a drama. The ending didn’t help, either. With a mystery, the end is supposed to be the big reveal: when the culprit is discovered and big questions are answered. That’s the point where you’re able to work backwards and say, “oh, now all of that makes sense.” But I didn’t get that feeling of satisfaction and closure that’s vital to the genre. When Enola finally finds her mother, it’s not via her own doing, and there are still so many gaps in Eudoria’s narrative— who she really is and where she went— that the entire reunion feels strange and incomplete, almost unnecessary. The same thing happened with the Tewksbury case. The plot twist was completely out-of-the-blue, and looking back, there was hardly any buildup to it, just a couple of comments here and there. This made it have more shock value than any well-developed climactic value.
I will also say that this film’s demographic is younger audiences. Enola Holmes is actually based on a young adult series by Nancy Springer, and some of the themes are very stereotypically YA. Enola is a bit of a Mary Sue — the typical “not like other girls” protagonist. The movie emphasizes the importance of female empowerment and individuality. However, at times, it feels like these messages are very explicit and in-your-face, and this lack of subtlety somewhat takes away from their value.
On that note, Sherlock and Mycroft’s characterization really bothered me. It seemed as if, rather than being individual characters of their own, they simply served as tools to bolster Enola, Mycroft especially. He became a walking caricature of misogyny, almost comically so, always trying to hinder Enola from doing what she wanted and pushing her back into societal norms. It was a way to show, in an even more black-and-white manner, the dichotomy between Enola and other women. According to a housemaid of the Holmes estate, this is because Mycroft doesn’t have the intelligence that Sherlock and Enola do, a fact that he’s resentful about. However, anyone who’s read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries (or watched BBC’s Sherlock) knows that this is completely wrong; Mycroft is actually smarter than Sherlock. The movie ended up missing the mark on Sherlock, too. Quiet, kind and polite, this was the opposite of the cold, abrasive, obsessive genius that is so distinctive of the character. At the same time, though, I did enjoy watching the new take on him and the special relationship that he had with Enola.
Now, where to conclude? If you’re looking for a feel-good, lighthearted movie about self-discovery and girl power, this is the perfect watch. There’s lots of playful wordplay involved throughout and plenty of humorous scenes with charming characters that separate this movie from its typically dark, gritty genre. However, if you’re a diehard Sherlock Holmes fan looking for an intricate mystery, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.