This isn’t the first time we’ve had a female-take on the stereotypically male pluck-clues-from-dust keen but socially oddball detective. In fact, there are loads of examples, like Nancy Drew and a Canadian TV series called Shirley Holmes where Sherlock’s great grand-niece takes over his work. But taking these sort of concepts and breathing new life back into them is exactly what Enola Holmes does, just like how Knives Out resurrected the who-don-it mystery genre alongside big-name blockbusters.
Turns out Sherlock Holmes had a sister twenty years her junior. Based off a series of six by Nancy Springer, this Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) and her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) grew up with riches and little worries but life couldn’t give them what they really wanted; self-worth. Eudoria teaches her daughter, who’s the only one in the Holmes bloodline who didn’t move away, that you can live your own life, or you can live the life the world makes for you. Then just a week after her 16th birthday, Eudoria vanishes. And Enola gets a telegraph from her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill, who else?) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) whom she hasn’t seen for years. And the reunion? You’d think it was forced probation for the young detectives. They’re there to look for her, I mean, their, mother, but a bat named Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw in a delicious typecast role) says Enola’s education is not proper for the world and it’s time for her to have a different teacher. But Enola’s not having any of it. She has a case to solve.
Long ago, I pretty much gave up on trying to be on the same pace as Hercule Poirot and counterparts. It’s easy to come up with theories but it’s more fun to look around and think who could be the mastermind, the one behind the blood-stained curtains of conspiracy? (There’s no such thing, I know, I know). Mysteries can be fun, but there can be hesitation among entertainment goers because of the fear they put in the guessing game by substituting the heart, humour, excitement, and character development of the story. Superb mysteries are ones that balance a puzzle that has the mixture of trickiness and welcome, with a plot worthy of investment so we care about who the culprit is. Enola Holmes is one of these, but it is also so much more.
For starters, there’s Millie Bobby Brown. She’s not just the newest Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff or Lea Michele. She’s already surpassed all of these actresses, and proves her range by having a sense of humour alongside her stubbornness, independence and irresistibility. She breaks the fourth wall for the full adventure. It’s like Dora the Explorer with a Sherlock attitude in all the best ways. I forgot how fun it was as a little kid when characters talked right to me.
Second, Brown plays a female character who isn’t out to find a guy to settle down with. The very idea makes her run away. She’s perfectly comfortable with who she is, she trusts the teachings of her also independent mother, and when for the first time Holmes finds doubt to trust her, we see major pain and confusion in her eyes. Third, the film sees society through the correct lens, a world where conservative men don’t see a need to change the world because it doesn’t affect them and they find no reason to listen to or empathize with those who have it worse. Way worse. It presents the actual Sherlock Holmes through a viewpoint that shows if he’s not willing to take that sort of look around him, if he’s not willing to be part of his own family, maybe he’s not deserving of being a hero in history books.
Some of the smart-aleck schtick is contagiously riotous. Figuring out the decoding of something that’s complete gibberish, looking at something for a second time through a different lens, it was all practically begging me to create a brain-teasing scavenger hunt.
A few flaws that deserve a bit of mention; some of the plot centres around a Reform Bill, and there are hints of the suffragette movement, and it more and more becomes clear that’s the real deal around this bill. (Which was apparently real and signed into law, repealed in 1918.) But it’s not entirely clear what extent the bill would and would not change lives, and I was intrigued to know. Secondly, the very ending is a little roughly paced, feeling like the screenwriters forgot they had to address one final piece of the puzzle and then decided to include it after the puzzle was deemed complete. They could’ve meshed it better.
So it’s not quite on the gargantuan level as Knives Out, but it deserves to be discussed and appreciated the same way, plus this mystery is way funnier.