Millie Bobbie Brown, Henry Cavill, and Sam Claflin are the Holmes siblings in the playful and charming Netflix mystery Enola Holmes – here’s our review.

There are few things as gratifying as watching someone break type in a film, even if the actor in question is as young as Millie Bobby Brown, star and producer of Netflix and Legendary Pictures’ Enola Holmes. Playing far from Stranger Things’ Upside Down-ed psychic teen Eleven, Brown takes the role of Sherlock Holmes’ smarter younger sister (no relation to Gene Wilder’s 1975 comedy) in this adaptation of Nancy Springer’s young-adult mystery series.

In the film, 16-year-old Enola (Brown) leads an idyllic and independent existence at the Holmes family estate, learning self-sufficiency and a spot of jiu-jitsu from her feminist mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). But when Mum ups sticks and leaves her to the devices of older brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft, (Sam Claflin) the youngest Holmes refuses to believe she’s been abandoned.

Narrowly escaping confinement to a girl’s finishing school under the thumb of prim and proper Miss Harrison, (Fiona Shaw) Enola runs headlong into a mystery involving the missing Marquess of Tewksbury (Louis Partridge). In the hope of proving herself, she sets out to solve the case while also avoiding her concerned brothers.

If you do this kind of teen-friendly adventure wrong, you wind up with Artemis Fowl, another story that labours over its young protagonist seeking a missing parent based on their detailed flashbacks. Happily, when you get it right, you mostly get Enola Holmes, a livelier affair that’s well scripted by the prolific Jack Thorne and, as mentioned, impeccably led by Brown.

While the film might most immediately be remarked upon for its fourth-wall-breaking technique, (especially with Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer at the helm) that’s just one way in which Thorne’s script toys with existing Holmesian tropes. As presented, Brown’s consistent Fleabagging of the camera is more comparable to the way the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC One series project what their respective Sherlocks are thinking. Much of the film follows in this same charming and playful spirit.

It’s only a shame that the film seems quite crowded by its impressive supporting cast. Cavill is not an obvious Sherlock, but he’s brighter and more likeable here than he ever has been as Superman (a strange reversal), while Claflin roaringly plays Mycroft as an old head on young shoulders. Bonham Carter is suitably wise and progressive as Mrs Holmes, but this is a film that slows right down whenever the rest of the Holmes family are involved. Thank goodness that their tactless loudmouth sibling Eamonn never made the cut…

Still, at least it’s on theme that these characters tend to slow down the deceptively straightforward mystery as they slow down their quick-witted sister. The standard, largely kid-friendly plot offers some fun for fans of word puzzles and visual clues, but it looks quite threadbare when stretched over a two-hour running time by all the assorted diversions.

As a result, a lot of the family intrigue winds up surplus to requirements despite the screen-time it’s afforded. Faring better in the more propulsive moments are Adeel Akhtar, whose fleeting but memorable turn is the latest in a long line of haughty Inspector Lestrades on film, and Susan Wokoma, who has a standout exchange with Sherlock while threatening him with a kettle. Special mention should also go to Partridge, whose Tewksbury makes a willing sidekick in solving the case of his own disappearance.

There’s no question that the film is at its best when following Enola, whether she’s paying boys to switch clothes with her when she needs a disguise (“You don’t have to wear my clothes if you don’t want to”, she cheerfully informs one of them) or otherwise contending with Shaw’s Miss Harrison and her insistence on conformity. There are also a couple of hair-raising fight scenes between Enola and hired goon Linthorn, (Burn Gorman) which recall some of the life-and-death jeopardy of Barry Levinson’s Young Sherlock Holmes, another junior edition of this particular property.

Dispensing with Arthur Conan Doyle well-thumbed texts in favour of Springer’s more modern approach, Enola Holmes ought to be as popular a reimagining for the screen as it was on the page. It gets a long, long way on sheer goodwill, and Brown’s spirited turn is enough to lift it well above any grumbles about its pacing.

 

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