ENOLA HOLMES: No Mystery To This Charmer’s Success

Oh no, not a reboot of an existing universe with a female-centric spin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except that it’s a well-trod and fraught approach, one with naysayers coming from all sides. When it’s not the vocal few who seemingly hate women in their universes (gag me) torpedoing a perfectly fine movie like 2016’s Ghostbusters, then it’s those wanting a particular kind of female representation bemoaning not getting original characters, à la the conversation around Ocean’s 8. It’s a no-win situation unless everyone chills out and lets people have their fun, which is hopefully the spirit people bring to Enola Holmes.

Yes, she’s one of those Holmes. Sherlock is her older brother, one of two, actually, who long ago grew up and left home. Enola was raised under the odd tutelage of her mother, who saw in Enola much of her famous brother’s brilliance and trained her accordingly. That means she’s not the refined young woman one expected in 1880s England, so when her mother mysteriously disappears on her 16th birthday and her brothers return home to care for her, they immediately arrange to send her to finishing school to become a proper lady. Obviously Enola won’t stand for that, and besides, she has a mother to find, so she makes her escape and the movie takes off.

ENOLA HOLMES: No Mystery To This Charmer's Success
source: Netflix

It’s a charming riff on Holmes lore, one with all the mysteries and whodunits you crave but with a teenage girl pulling the clues out of the bag. That inherently puts a progressive spin on things, which the story leans into in other ways, but it’s hardly the reason anyone’s here. Enola is simply a spry, delightful character, which presumably comes from author Nancy Springer’s book series from which the film is based. Watching her piece together the various puzzles is what sucks you in and keeps you there, even though the film’s overstuffed, uneven length. Simply put, it’s out to have fun, and it succeeds in a way that makes it completely unworthy of any ire, even if it might be doomed to some simply because of Enola’s gender.

Keeping Things Light

Director Harry Bradbeer makes sure the spirit of this movie comes through right from its opening. While on a shaky bike ride, Enola turns to the camera and gets us up to speed on the revisionist aspects of the story. It’s a jaunty and efficient way to get through exposition, a pace the movie uses to get all the balls rolling.

Strangely, it’s in this opening that the movie shines the brightest, with a brash, strong style that whips you in and out of the past and in and out of the movie. Those fourth wall breaks do dispel some of the magic, so to speak, of watching a movie, but it also invites you right into Enola’s world. Often they are done while explaining a piece of the puzzle, giving the feel that you’re partnered with Enola in solving the riddles. It’s a sort of a grown-up Blue’s Clues effect: you’re too shrewd to believe you’re actually helping Enola out, but it’s still nice to feel included.

ENOLA HOLMES: No Mystery To This Charmer's Success
source: Netflix

Even as these pieces of flair fade out as the movie goes along, the inviting feeling stays, and you work out the mysteries on your own. The fact that there’s two to solve, the location of Enola’s mother and who is coming after the young lord she meets along the way, does become a bit much for the movie to handle. Fewer twists in exchange for more of the charming asides would be welcome, particularly for older viewers who will likely figure things out quickly, but enough of the movie’s warm, bounding feel is maintained throughout to keep the whole family satisfied.

Team Effort

Unlike the more famous Holmes, Enola isn’t afraid of some company, which combines with the sprawling mysteries to give viewers quite a sizeable cast to relish. Millie Bobby Brown is the anchor as Enola, of course, and her confidence in the role is one few actors of her age can pull off with such natural swagger. Perhaps the difference is that it’s earned; she’s been starring in Stranger Things for years now and has a key role in the big screen Godzilla franchise, a one-two punch of non-hammy, adult style work that few people get by the age of 16. In contrast to those projects, where the end of the world threats loom, it’s refreshing to see her have some fun as Enola. The lighter, breezier touch she puts on this role is perfectly measured to the movie’s scale, and it gives a tantalizing taste of what she might do with a true comedy. 

She carries the movie with ease, but all those ensembles means she also knows how to play off others, which becomes one of the most enjoyable parts of Enola Holmes. Everyone in this cast is on the same page, which is no small feat for such a big movie, filling precisely the piece the film needs. Helena Bonham Carter portrays the mother with a toned-down eccentricity (for her), Louis Partridge charms as the young lord/love interest, and Sam Claflin’s Mycroft is every bit the old beyond his years curmudgeon you never want to see as a thirtysomething.

ENOLA HOLMES: No Mystery To This Charmer's Success
source: Netflix

It’s the ever wonderful Henry Cavill who really shines alongside Brown, though. He only gets better when he’s away from Superman, and he makes his Sherlock a slightly softer, more human character. This is largely because Enola ruffles his feathers, and Cavill lets you know that a part of him likes it. It’s odd to describe Sherlock as warm, but Cavill’s is in a way, even when he’s keeping his distance. This prompted a lawsuit from Sherlock creator Arthur Conan Doyle‘s estate, which claims that any softness in the character is still under copyright, but it’s the right move for a movie that just wants to loosen up and have some fun.


Enola Holmes puts a bright, lighthearted spin on detective work, and it gives its young star a chance to loosen up as well. Everybody is incredibly game for this material, letting it simply be the charming diversion it is, even as it casually reframes a famous world.

Did you find the lighter spin on the world of Holmes charming? Are you up for this becoming a series? Let us know in the comments!

Enola Holmes is available on Netflix worldwide starting September 23rd, 2020.

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