‘Enola Holmes’ Is a Rollicking, Proto-Feminist Romp

Netflix’s Enola Holmes begins with its leading lady breaking the fourth wall. A quick, cheeky montage about Enola Holmes’ (Millie Bobby Brown) upbringing alongside her iconoclastic mother (Helena Bonham Carter).

Not only is this a breezy introduction to the character and her world, but it also serves to preemptively answer the question “Why is Enola a brilliant, sword-fighting girl detective?”

It’s very difficult to be mad at this movie, despite the occasional misstep. For smart kids, movies and TV shows that respect their intelligence can be hard to come by. This is the kind of film that I would have loved as a 13-year-old. And, to be honest, I loved it as a 37-year-old, too.

If you’d like to see the trailer, I’ve included it below.

Brilliant Cast, Slightly Less Brilliant Plot

Brown is fierce, charming, and vulnerable in her first leading role. Henry Cavill as Enola’s famous older brother is sure to be the first crush of quite a few younger viewers. His occasional flashes of humor marks him as a possible ally for young Enola. Sam Claflin brings a sneering priggishness to his portrayal of the eldest brother, Mycroft.

Nancy Springer wrote five short novels about Enola Holmes for younger readers. They focused on Enola’s independence and Victorian-era feminism. She was essentially a social justice warrior. The first book is The Case of the Missing Marquess, a little boy who runs away from his overbearing family.

In this version, the marquess is Enola’s age. Sadly, Louis Partridge sacrifices his wonderfully floppy hair early on in the movie. He’s rakish, handsome, and a bit of a prig–halfway between Sherlock and Mycroft, in fact.

As is so often the case, the movie adaptation is less subtle than the book. A new character called Mrs. Harrison (Fiona Shaw) is an additional antagonist who ruthlessly slaps Enola within five minutes of meeting her.

Was it necessary to give our heroine even more motivation to leave home and find her mother?

Ultimately, the changes to the plot are less important than staying true to the spirit of the source novels. In that, Enola Holmes succeeded.

Ranking the Sherlocks

But where does Cavill rank as a Sherlock? Of all the portrayals of the Great Detective, Cavill’s is more human and less coldly brilliant. It works in this setting, but he’s slightly less than average in this Sherlock fan’s opinion.

  1. Jeremy Brett
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch
  3. Basil Rathbone
  4. Peter Cushing
  5. Henry Cavill
  6. Jonny Lee Miller

And #99… Robert Downey, Jr.

In some ways, Enola Holmes struggles with the same issues as RDJ and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films. In trying to make the Victorian detective cool–meaning he knows kung fu–he becomes just another action hero. Enola Holmes walks that line more successfully.