Throughout literature, film, and television, the detective genre has long been dominated by the likes of men. Whether they be brooding cops suffering from the tragic murder of a wife, or eccentric outcasts who puzzle their way around their peers, men have dominated mainstream detective mysteries longer than any of us have been alive. Netflix's new acquisition, Enola Holmes, couldn't care less about who is usually at the center of these stories, instead introducing a brilliantly witty teenage girl as its protagonist, and delivering one of the best detective films we've had in years.
Based on the novels by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes follows the teen-aged younger sister of iconic detective Sherlock Holmes as she strikes out on her own in search of her missing mother. Enola has spent most of her life hanging out with her eccentric mother, learning actual, usable skills, as opposed to the things that society deems necessary for a woman to understand. Upon her mother's disappearance, Enola's eldest brother, Mycroft, becomes her legal caregiver, and insists she fall in line. Of course, Enola does nothing of the sort, instead escaping to solve clues left behind by her mother, as well as help a young Lord that has also attempted to escape the fate set for him by his family.
What makes Enola Holmes work so well is its ability to give a classic, English detective tale some modern sensibilities, which applies to both the style and substance of the film. Enola as a character is charming and quick-witted, often breaking the fourth wall to narrate her own story to the audience and offer a sly joke when necessary. Most projects have trouble dealing with the fourth-wall-breaking, as it often comes across as heavy-handed and exhausting, but it works for Enola, just as it did for Fleabag, director Harry Broadbeer's Emmy-winning TV series with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Daniel Pemberton's outstanding score also does a good bit of heavy-lifting when it comes to making the piece feel more modern, constantly blending genres and turning the stylistic clock backwards and forwards through different eras.
The real modern turn for Enola Holmes comes in the story itself. Underneath the fun and fast-paced mystery is a narrative of a young girl being taught by the person she respects most that the rules written by and for men aren't allowed to define who she is or who she chooses to become. That is up to her and her alone. The lives of Enola, her mother, and the young Lord are tied directly to the fight for women's rights in England, making the mystery not only more impactful, but further driving home the idea that Enola can truly forge her own destiny.
While the script and sensibilities of Enola Holmes are marvelous in their own right, the weight of the entire project falls on the shoulders of the titular heroine. Without an extraordinary talent taking on Enola, this movie could never work the way it hopes to. That burden is carried with ease by Millie Bobby Brown. I could spend an entire review explaining just how talented Brown already is, but it's nothing you don't already know. Brown transitions seamlessly from the standout of the Stranger Things ensemble to an incredibly capable leading performer, consistently out-classing actors twice her age. This turn as Enola further proves the fact that Brown will be one of the biggest names in this industry for a long, long time. She's Natalie Portman-level good, and I'm not sure I can pay a higher compliment than that.
While Enola Holmes is truly a Millie Bobby Brown Vehicle, Henry Cavill's take on Sherlock Holmes is a delightful consolation prize. He and Brown bring out the best in one another on-screen, matching wits and exchanging riddles. He brings a more whimsical, literary approach than other recent iterations, and it will be a shame if he doesn't get several more opportunities to play the character. He's a fine Sherlock in every way.
In its brightest moments, Enola Holmes is charming, unexpected, and all-around inspiring. At its worst, it's still a pretty good detective story. You really can't go wrong with this one, and it feels like Netflix may finally have the film franchise it's been trying so desperately to find.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Enola Holmes debuts on Netflix on September 23rd