Director: Harry Bradbeer
Writers: Jack Thorne, Nancy Springer (novel)
Music Composer: Daniel Pemberton
Production Designer: Michael Carlin
Costume Designer: Consolata Boyle
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge
Streaming Platform: Netflix
The Holmes universe is meant to be addictive. Its intellect, wit, and even sociopathy, in some warped way, are what make it so infectiously charming. You don’t mind the beguiling fantasy, you’re not supposed to. Why else would you have actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr. smoke a shiny black pipe on screen while they scavenge for some leads in a shady alley around London? Netflix’s Enola Holmes, on the other hand, is a catastrophe. The mystery in it is so gloriously weak that even an Enid Blyton-reading 10-year-old could solve it.
Enola (Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things) is an untamed but tenacious, flippant but clever 16-year-old. Her brothers are, let’s say, on the other end of the spectrum. Mycroft (Sam Claflin, Me Before You) is a stickler for rules, he always has a rod up you-know-where. Sherlock (Henry Cavill, Man of Steel) is quiet, discerning, and reticent. The three come together when their mother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club), who’s more Enola’s mother, disappears or rather, runs away. It’s pretty straightforward from here on. All three of them, like the curious, little birds they are, want to solve this mystery.
Director Harry Bradbeer and screenwriter Jack Thorne sprinkled in a few other torque-less mysteries, too, one of which is also the unglamorously sad script. Apart from Enola, each character is wafer-thin, especially Sherlock. He doesn’t really have any personality apart from a few rousing looks and a juicy accent, which can only be attributed to Cavill. If you didn’t tell me that he was the Sherlock Holmes, I probably would mistake him for a smug pseudo-intellectual. Cavill’s version of Sherlock is the most human-like when compared to RDJ’s and Cumberbatch’s, which is perhaps where the problem lies — he is not even close to a high-functioning, cocaine-snorting humanoid detective. He doesn’t possess any romantic dysfunctionalities and there’s nothing awe-inspiring about him, he’s “basic” and “average.”
Mycroft and Enola share a more interesting dynamic. The former is the family arbiter but is also the bastion, self-proclaimed guardian of male chauvinism. He believes that women should be well-dressed and domesticated spouses, and as a result, sends the graceless Enola to an institution (read: factory) that has taken upon itself the societal duty to culture girls into ladies (read: enslaved machines). The two behave acridly around each other, and that is the extent of an interesting relationship in the plot. Mycroft, however, isn’t anything but an anti-feminist and misanthrope in here. He’s simply a tool to show us how woke the makers are, how woke the film is.
The film was so concerned about seeming progressive that it forgot about, what one may call, a coherent narrative. Now, I do not think that a film needs to aspire to reach the levels of a Judith Butler and be a revolutionary. But for a story that never comes out of this vortex of tokenistic feminism, one does feel rather frustrated and bitter. It is not subtle about its sexism and misogyny. It is also not subtle about Sherlock’s apolitical views. And this is where all the discussion is put to a grinding halt. The feminism stops at embroidery and corsets. The politics stop at a few ephemeral women’s suffrage protest glimpses. It is such an exasperatingly shallow attempt at appearing progressive that it does not even commit to being nuanced. Enola Holmes will not urge you to think. Instead, it will make you feel good about yourselves for your lack of complacency. This is the cinematic equivalent of “you go girl,” and a plasticky laundry list of conservative social traditions.
Millie Bobby Brown, however, is spunky and vivacious as Enola. She absorbs the character’s dominating, capricious persona — there’s always the troublemaking twinkle in her eye. She does get cartoonish but it only adds weight to the teenager she’s playing. When she outwits Sherlock at various junctures, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. Even her semi-romantic subplot is sweet and unimposing. It doesn’t take the driver’s seat and carry the vessel forward. Though, we could have seen more of Helena Bonham Carter as her headstrong mother to feel Enola’s heartache when she is abandoned. That way, Carter was grossly under-utilised.
The story morphs into a bungling mess when Enola gallops across the UK, from one lacklustre mystery to another. It is all too circuitous, where she’s just jumping from Point A to Point B. The movie peddled such poorly written subplots that I ended up wondering whether I am being fed some cheesy fan-fiction. Enola’s not-exactly-platonic friend (Louis Partridge) is a naïve, young Lord who fled his large manor house. She wants to track down those trying to hurt him and why they are behind him in the first place. This is the part I’d like to call — the curious case of what the writers were thinking. With rickety motives and laughable twists at the crux of it, this drab tale of sleep-inducing suspense, sadly, is not even offered a somewhat satisfying conclusion.
The film’s phony copy of Fleabag’s fourth-wall-breaking scenes with Enola only felt stylistically contrived. While, at times, it did wring out some meta humour, but for most of those moments, the narrative uses it as a cop-out to relay dizzying sets of exposition. We learn about her childhood and history all through the Waller-Bridge-inspired tactics. Daniel Pemberton’s score, on the other hand, was a great source of comfort and light-heartedness. Coupled with the production and set design that aptly portrayed the massy sprawls of London, the movie does a nice job of blending its technical skills with the story’s setting.
If you are interested in a feminist twist to the Holmes universe, Nancy Springer’s YA series, on which this film is based on, is a much better alternative. That said, Enola Holmes does a shoddy job of adapting this pastiche spin-off series on-screen.
You can find Enola Holmes on Netflix.