Directed by Harry Bradbeer | Written by Jack Thorne, based on the book by Nancy Springer | 123 min | Netflix
What if Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) had a sister (Millie Bobby Brown), a teenager as clever and willful as the mythical detective? What if she was raised in a rambling country mansion by a free-thinking woman, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), taught history, wordplay, Shakespeare, and jujitsu. And what if Eudoria disappeared, leaving Enola in the care of her more bureaucratic, less adored brother, Mycroft (Sam Claflin), prompting the burgeoning teen detective to escape to London to seek her missing mother, only to cross paths on the train with the Young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), running for his life from a bad man in a brown bowler (Burn Gorman)?
What would happen then? A lot of fun, that’s what.
What we have here is a wonderfully well-made adventure which, while brushed with the bright, primary elements of its YA source material, is actually potently feminist. It turns out Eudoria is a militant suffragette, prepared to use violence in order to achieve equality, and is never presented as less than heroic. It’s also delivered with the lightest, most charmingly English touch since the second Paddington movie.
If Stranger Things hadn’t already made Millie Bobby Brown one of the best-known teen actors in Hollywood, this role would do it. Speaking in an accent much closer to her actual, the English lead carries the film like she’s always been, and always will be, Enola. Her self-confidence doesn’t deny a vulnerability any more than her intelligence denies her lack of experience. Brown is just terrific, which is more of an indictment of that awful Godzilla movie she was in that they wasted her so badly.
Bradbeer is known for having directed a lot of British TV, most recently Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s groundbreaking Fleabag, and he borrows a few of the fourth-wall-breaking gags of that series to hilarious effect, along with the action set-pieces of another show he’s worked on, Killing Eve. Like that show, Enola Holmes’ plot has a knack for entertaining left turns — one moment Enola’s saving the wealthy heir and the next she’s stuck at a girls school run by Fiona Shaw — and the script a bucket-load of witty asides all while bloody murder may be in the offing.
The only weak link here, I’m sorry to report, is Cavill as Sherlock. I like Cavill well enough as Superman, I like him in The Man From UNCLE, and I like him in the recent Mission: Impossible — he’s got star presence in the right part. But, unfortunately, he essays the Baker Street sleuth as an implausibly fit slab of dull paternal concern, with none of the fidgety brilliance we’ve now come to expect from the role thanks to recent characterizations from Jonny Lee Miller, Benedict Cumberbatch, and even Robert Downey Jr. If Cavill and Claflin had switched parts, that might’ve worked a lot better.
Despite that, I hope this is a huge hit for Netflix and we get a dozen more of Enola’s adventures. There are six books, so I’d settle for half a dozen.