Review by C.J. Bunce
Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown leads up a cast of Harry Potter alumni in Netflix’s fun new Victorian mystery, Enola Holmes, a sure-fire selection for streaming this weekend on Netflix. Based on the novels by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes puts a new face—and name—to the Sherlock Holmes legend. Enola (“Which backward spells alone”) is the much younger sister of the disapproving elder Holmes brothers, and their unconventional mother (played by Harry Potter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, Helena Bonham Carter). On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Enola wakes to discover her mother has left without warning, leaving her only a hidden message in a book of flowers, and a hidden stash of cash. Disappointed in her brothers’ lackadaisical approach to solving their mother’s disappearance, Enola determines to do it herself—finding herself tangled in another mystery along the way. The runaway Marquess of Tewkesbury (Medici’s Louis Partridge) falls into Enola’s path, and she’s swiftly drawn into his case, which leads her from London, to his family estate, to a ghastly finishing school, and back again.
Brown turns in a strong performance as the headstrong Enola, the best moments of which come when she breaks the fourth wall to speak—or simply look—at the audience. She and Partridge have good chemistry, adding a hint of innocent young romance (but only a hint) to their partnership. Brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin, My Cousin Rachel) steps into the role of film’s antagonist, while Sherlock (in a fun performance by Superman Henry Cavill) becomes an unexpected, if distant, ally. Supporting cast includes Harry Potter film series alumni Frances de la Tour and Fiona Shaw, Doctor Who’s Claire Rushbrook, The Golden Compass’s Hattie Morahan, and one of England’s best villain performers, Burn Gorman.
Viewers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Springer books should prepare themselves for some changes. Enola and Tewkesbury are older, and Enola’s search for her mother reveals a secret life behind her disappearance. There’s more work for stuntmen and women, and less for the makeup artist, as the movie opts to showcase Enola’s physical prowess over her mastery of disguise and cryptography from the novels. Looks for some young adult/adult violence in excess of the middle grade books, too (16-year-old Enola is drowned, beaten, choked, kicked). It’s a bit difficult to pin down the time the movie takes place–a date of 1884 is given alongside the scene of Enola’s birth, which would put the date at 1900 for most of the action—but the plot centers around a suffrage reform bill before Parliament, the last of which was in 1884. The clothing and technology likewise span the last quarter of the 19th century, including elaborate bustle-era dresses alongside early automobiles and film (both of which arrived in the mid 1890s). So it’s a hodgepodge of Victoriana that sometimes works and sometimes confuses, but if you’re prepared not to take things too seriously, it all looks rather good (except for a gaffe with some obviously 21st century plastic shotgun shells).
Although it’d be fun to look forward to, unfortunately it doesn’t look like a series of movies lies ahead–marketing images for the film show Brown is not likely to be playing young teenagers much longer (which also doesn’t bode well for anyone wanting many more seasons of Stranger Things).
With attractive production design, lively performances, and a surprising mystery, Enola Holmes is a must-watch film for fans of Sherlock Holmes, detective stories, and Millie Bobby Brown. Enola Holmes is streaming now on Netflix. And be sure to check out Netflix Life’s recommendations for books to read if you enjoy the movie—including borg contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, coming to bookstores October 6.