There have been plenty adaptations of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s wondrous character, the world’s smartest detective. While there is no dearth in adventures if a future adaptation were to take place, one has to accept that seeing the same detective (although played by different actors), even as he solved unique crimes with his usual uncanny intelligence, was growing stale. But he nevertheless remains the popular choice. In such a scenario, depicting a story centred around his younger, smarter sister Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) is not only a breath of fresh air but is also both daring and a successful attempt at presenting a character that both fits in Holmes’ world and also sets out to create her own presence.
Enola Holmes is an adaptation of the first book in author Nancy Springer’s stories about the young detective who is the never-talked-about sister if the world-famous Sherlock Holmes and possesses the same keen deduction prowess him. Harry Bradbeer’s adaptation of Springer’s work is more like an origin story than a full-fledged mystery thriller and it shows. But most importantly, it is hard to pinpoint whether Millie Bobby Brown couldn’t have chosen a better film to add to her resume or the makers of Enola Holmes struck gold when they decided to cast the Stranger Things’ wonder as it is her personification of the character that makes it compelling.
The story begins with Enola narrating the freedom, knowledge, and confidence her mother, Eudoria Holmes (Helena Bonham Carter) has imbued in her upbringing. But on her 16th birthday, her mother mysteriously disappears. She expects her brothers, Mycroft and the famous detective Sherlock (Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin) may help her in solving the query. But while Sherlock sees himself in Enola but is too busy pretending to be aloof, Mycroft finds her as a wild child that needs to be tamed. He plans on sending her to a finishing school whose whose headmistress (Fiona Shaw) turns girls into “acceptable wives and responsible mothers.”
But Enola is having none of it and she embarks on her own journey to find her mother. Along the way she meets a young aristocrat runaway with a rather long name, Viscount of Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilweather (Louis Partridge), who is also on the run from his family who are not allowing him to pursue a future he wants. But his life is in grave danger as apparently his family has sent an assassin to kill him, which means Enola now has two mysteries to solve.
There are some evident and well-established play on the gender role reversal– Tewkesbury is an expert on flowers, while Enola is exemplary in hand-to-hand combat and conducts a pretty daring rescue.
Often, during the over 2-hour long duration of Enola Holmes, the young detective directly speaks to the audience, putting to use the classic fourth-wall-breaking narration. This is a remanent of Bradbeer time on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag as its director and the show’s signature element of directing addressing the camera. But while its use in Fleabag fits amazingly, these moments in Enola Holmes still come across as forced despite Millie Bobby Brown’s impactful presence.
While Jack Thorne’s screenplay and Bradbeer’s direction has created a solid character, the mysteries Enola Holmes sets out to solve aren’t as compelling. The previous iteration of the world of Sherlock Holmes have raised the standard of perplexing its audiences to the point that a simple case where the answers are easy to deduce for the viewer doesn’t really evoke the similar awe one feels while watching the older Holmes solving cases. While certainly the credit goes to the creators who have built a pretty solid character that wins us over with her chutzpah and thankfully isn’t a carbon copy of Sherlock, mostly its Millie Bobby Brown charisma and phenomenal performance that makes us want to join the young detective on another one of her adventures.