Enola Holmes (2020) Review

While we have to wait a lot longer for Warner Bros.‘ yet-untitled Sherlock Holmes 3 (currently due for release in December 2021), here’s an appetiser instead — a (non-related to the aforementioned studio) spinoff based on Nancy Springer’s YA detective novel series The Enola Holmes Mysteries.

Simply titled as Enola Holmes, the movie chose to adapt the first volume (The Case of the Missing Marquess) as we are introduced to the titular teenage character played by Millie Bobby Brown (of Netflix’s Stranger Things fame). It got off to a promising start, setting the kind of bouncy tone that we’re in a treat for something hip, fun and has a refreshingly contemporary vibe in the otherwise historical 19th-century England setting.

Harry Bradbeer, best known for directing the acclaimed comedy series Fleabag, matches that initial tone wonderfully with Millie Bobby Brown’s perfectly feisty role of Enola Holmes. He frequently had the young star breaking the fourth wall from the brisk opening scene itself, summarising to her audience how she and her mom (Helena Bonham Carter, making good use of her limited screentime) live happily together. We also learn that Enola’s childhood is mostly spent either inside or around their family estate. That includes everything from homeschooling and reading every book possible to learning martial arts and playing indoor sports (tennis, to be exact).

Then one day, something goes wrong: Her mom has mysteriously disappeared. So, she decided to set off to find out the truth, despite some setbacks from his strict older brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin) who wants to send her to a finishing school. Mycroft’s younger and famous detective-brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill), on the other hand, isn’t particularly urgent to solve the mystery behind their mother’s sudden disappearance.

Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin and Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix's "Enola Holmes"

With no one else she can count on, Enola takes matters into her own hands and plots an escape disguising as a boy. She ends up hopping a train to London and from there, she meets a fellow teenage runaway named Viscount of Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilweather (Louis Partridge).

Playing a rebellious 16-year-old teenager is certainly a spot-on vehicle for Millie Bobby Brown, who exudes effortless charm with just enough spunk and sass to her title role. She pairs well with her co-star Louis Partridge, who in turn, delivers a charismatic supporting turn as Viscount of Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilweather.

Sam Claflin, in the meantime, made quite an impression as the stern persistent elder brother Mycroft and the same can be said with Fiona Shaw, who plays the headmistress of a finishing school.

Enola Holmes has good production values too, notably Consolata Boyle’s costume design and the overall CG-enhanced Victorian London setting. Daniel Pemberton’s lively score complements well with the mostly sprightly tone of the movie.

Millie Bobby Brown and Louis Partridge in Netflix's "Enola Holmes"

And yet, Enola Holmes feels like it’s missing a few pieces of the puzzle. The movie wants to have it both ways: an old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes-style detective story and a coming-of-age tale involving the title character herself. For the former, the whole “finding-the-missing-person” angle isn’t as riveting as it turns out to be. The movie also diverts from the main storyline to a side story, where Enola sacrifices her time helping the troubled young lord — a result that actually drags the momentum, making the 123-minute length feels sometimes laborious.

Whereas both sides of the mysteries lacking enough thrills and intrigues, the movie’s coming-of-age angle works better by comparison. Of course, this is largely due to Millie Bobby Brown’s committed performance for bringing the title character to vivid life.

Elsewhere, the movie tends to slack every now and then with an erratic pace (again, the 123-minute running time could have used some trimmings). The obligatory inclusion of Sherlock Holmes played by Henry Cavill poses another problem as well. It’s kind of baffling to see a well-known film star like Cavill is given the role of Sherlock Holmes and ends up being a passive character, who doesn’t get to do much in this movie. While I understand it’s not fair to have him stealing the limelight since we are supposed to be rooting for Enola Holmes, that doesn’t mean Cavill has to end up relegated to a largely thankless role. He clearly deserved better than this.

Overall, Enola Holmes is the kind of a decent movie that could have been better if not for Jack Thorne’s lacklustre adapted screenplay. Millie Bobby Brown is already perfectly cast in her title role and since Nancy Springer’s detective novel series have five more volumes to go, here’s hoping that Netflix can step up their game if they decided to go ahead for the future sequel(s).