Whether it's the quirky whimsy of Robert Downey Jr’s big-screen performance or the steely-eyed precision of Benedict Cumberbatch’s take, Sherlock Holmes is a figure who has numerous personifications in popular culture. Instead of delivering more enigmatic mysteries from Sherlock’s repertoire, Netflix looks to jumpstart a new franchise with Enola Holmes, which follows the journey of Sherlock’s precocious younger sister. While the film never reinvents its familiar trappings, this assured origin entry delivers a briskly-paced diversion packed with charisma and wit.
Based on Nancy Springer’s novels, the film follows Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), who lives outside of society’s gender norms with her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). When Eudoria suddenly goes missing, her elder brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) return home, setting Enola off on a mystery to solve her mother’s sudden disappearance.
Enola Holmes is well aware of the audience’s preconceived notions about Arthur Conan Doyle’s source material, cleverly turning those established conceits on their head. Jack Thorne’s screenplay aptly centers itself on Enola’s chipper perspective, conveying her idealistic and rambunctious spirit with a naturalistic light and wry sensibility. This isn’t your grandparent’s typical period piece, with director Harry Bradbeer unabashedly embracing a youthful voice that conveys resonant truths about adolescents (the fourth-wall-breaking segments are used effectively). Bradbeer and Thorne also ground Enola’s struggles in a modern sensibility. The character’s timeless battle against stereotypical gender roles registers a genuine impression that should connect with younger viewers.
Much of the material’s innate charm derives from the assured cast. Millie Bobby Brown displayed instant star power as Eleven in Stranger Things, but it’s her portrayal of Enola that marks her best performance to date. Brown carries the film like a seasoned pro, imbuing a sly sense of humor that keeps audiences on their toes while capturing the humanity behind Enola’s sharp facade. Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin make for a dynamite one-two-punch as Sherlock and Mycroft. Cavill implements the legends’ suave charm from his own voice, which Claflin counters brilliantly with his stuffy portrayal of Mycroft’s rigid sensibility.
Enola Holmes registers a positive impression for its first outing, yet there are some areas a potential sequel can improve on. Bradbeer’s direction tries to implement a stylistic pulse through his usage of collage-based transitions. The issue arises from the film’s inability to do much outside of that, with generic framing leaving a familiar “Netflix movie” aroma. I was also left wanting more from Thorne’s fairly predictable narrative, as the film rarely deceives audiences the way a cunning mystery should.
Starting a promising franchise on the right foot, Enola Holmes eschews its YA formula by implementing its own distinct charm.