REVIEW: Enola Holmes (2020)
It came as something of a surprise that the first book in Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series – The Case of the Missing Marquess – has been adapted into a film (albeit on Netflix) instead of being the first episode in a TV series. Presumably, a plan is in place for there to be sequels, but whether all of the big-name cast will be returning, remains to be seen. Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown plays the titular Enola – much younger sister to Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) Holmes. Their mother is played by Helena Bonham-Carter and no explanation is given for the twenty year gap between Enola and her brothers. With them both being away, busy detecting and politicking, they have not kept in touch with Enola. Despite this, she has led a happy life being educated by her mother – in the ways of indoor tennis and archery and outdoor self-defence, amongst lots of reading and explosive science experiments. That is until she awakes on her 16th birthday to find that her mother has disappeared.
The tone of the film, from the get-go, is going to be something that either delights or annoys – you will probably realise pretty quickly whether this is something that will sweep you along for the ride or rub you up the wrong way. Of Sherlocks past, it’s probably most similar to the Guy Ritchie versions – with a flippant and anarchic light-hearted style. There is a lively and jaunty score provided by Daniel Pemberton (who incidentally provided the scores for Ritchie’s Man From UNCLE and King Arthur films). It is Enola who takes us through the entire story, directly addressing us via the fourth wall, which of course is extremely zeitgeisty, thanks to Fleabag. Although it’s not a new phenomenon – look at 1992’s Orlando for just one older example. It also uses – particularly in the opening monologue – illustrations, in the style of Victorian etchings, early photography and collage to demonstrate Enola’s points. Personally, I found all of this delightful, in this particular context.
The entire film rests on the young shoulders of Millie Bobby Brown, as she is our guide through proceedings and is therefore in every scene. Fortunately, as we know from Stranger Things, she’s an extremely accomplished actor and it’s nice to see her use her own cut-glass English accent in a role that couldn’t be more different from Eleven. Predictably, Cavill and Claflin aren’t in the film all that much. If you’re expecting this to be a quest in which Enola teams up with Sherlock to solve the two central mysteries, you will be disappointed. Their dynamic in their shared scenes is great, however.
Despite Cavill being three years older than Claflin, Claflin plays the fusty mustachioed elder brother Mycroft, who takes every opportunity to point out that since their father died, Ferndell Hall (the family seat) has been his and he has just generously allowed his mother and younger sister to remain there. As soon as the disappearance is discovered, he sets about trying to ship Enola off to Fiona Shaw’s boarding school, but the wily Enola manages to escape to London. The locations – particularly Ferndell Hall and the school – are absolutely gorgeous. Sherlock is more sympathetic to his younger sister and sees a kindred spirit in her. While we’ve seen Claflin play a similar role recently in Peaky Blinders, we’re not used to seeing Cavill use his brain rather than his brawn, although this version of Sherlock is the most hilariously ‘built’ Victorian gentlemen ever.
Enola becomes sidetracked on the mission to find her mother by the plight of a runaway Marquess (played by Louis Partridge), whose life is in danger. The two unlikely allies end up in various scrapes and shenanigans together, including an exciting Paddington-like train chase and a daring escape in a basket. Politics is, surprisingly, a bigger feature of the story than might have been expected, with suffrage being a part of the Mrs Holmes mystery and the ‘Representation of the People Act’ being key to the Marquess case. Being able to make connections between Enola Holmes and Mike Leigh’s latest film Peterloo was not something I could have anticipated going into this and is quite a big bonus, in my eyes. The whole supporting cast, including Adeel Akhtar and Susan Wokoma are fantastic. There are also many parallels that can be drawn between Enola Holmes and Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield – the lively style, the narrator taking us through the story and the diverse cast (although that is a much bigger factor in Copperfield).
This current trend of anachronistic or whimsical period pieces (see also The Favourite, The Great and Autumn de Wilde’s Emma) probably aren’t going to age terribly well and certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. Many may view them as too frenetic and frantic for their own good, with not a small dollop of smugness to them. However, I am generally a fan (to varying degrees) and this style really suited the fact that the protagonist is a home-schooled teenager in this case. This is her point-of-view that we’re being given, she is naive and views the world with a childlike wonder and sense of adventure. Brown’s winning central performance is the main reason why this is a joy to watch and I really enjoyed feeling like I was in cahoots with Enola on her various quests. I hope that this is the start of a franchise and that most of the main cast will return because for me, this was an utter delight.