Cute, endearing, and mildly entertaining, Enola Holmes would be a perfect franchise-starter for Netflix if it weren’t for a puzzle that’s too quaint and too simple and a young romantic subplot that’s lacking in much spark or spunk. As it is, it’s good for a Sunday afternoon romp and, sure enough, for possible better sequels down the road as I know they’ll be made regardless. Millie Bobby Brown is an ever-watchable whip-smart heroine and as her prissy, reform-averse older brother Mycroft, Sam Claflin is a hoot until he’s not, playing the government agent as a snobby, backwards bureaucrat with an overbearing penchant for standing in the way of societal progress. On the other hand, Henry Cavill is somewhat miscast as a more soft-spoken Sherlock Holmes, a genius detective with seemingly none of the iconic flaws, foibles, and eccentricities that make him so interesting. Ditto young actor Louis Partridge, an amiable screen presence but slightly out of his depth playing against Brown. That discrepancy renders their on-screen flirtations clunky and full of teen romance tropes that aren’t befitting a character like Holmes.
What is interesting, and what makes Enola Holmes greater than the sum of its parts, is a throughline revolving around turn of the century feminism and women’s suffrage in England. Enola and her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) are seen as low-down, dirty cultural rebels in a world where women wear gloves, hip modulators, and pipe down when the men are speaking. This is an England wherein education is reserved for men who are the heir to power and pomp. Women learn only what is asked of them in public: how to look pretty, sound genteel, and defer to those more intelligent than themselves. Enola has learnt quite the opposite, how to think critically and apply herself to an ideal, to use science, mathematics, and historical acumen to eventually best her most quick-witted of brothers. It’s unfortunate then that the puzzle to be solved isn’t much of a puzzle at all. This is a movie where the destination is more intriguing than the journey, which isn’t exactly what you want when following the Holmes family on a tale of mystery. No matter, because a thrilling, somewhat moving ending is in order. Political heft saves the film from what would otherwise be pure mediocrity.
P.S. Shout-out to Harry Potter alum Fiona Shaw and Frances De La Tour. They both steal scenes with vigor.