Sherlock Holmes films, television shows, and books have been a staple of the media landscape since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned the original novels, with the character appearing in more standalone works than perhaps any other and being referenced or even showing up in hundreds more works, so it’s little surprise that now we have a new Sherlock Holmes based story with a teenage girl as the lead. It was only a matter of time before Enola Holmes got her own film treatment and cashed in on that name recognition after she was introduced in a 2006 novel.
The much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Enola lives in a version of their world that is aesthetically similar to the one we’ve come to know from the other adaptations but that operates differently, with more of a view to be a childish adventure. It really seems the Holmes name was only taken to justify a Victorian English setting and even that probably only exists to separate this character from the other young female detectives we’ve seen elsewhere. Were we not constantly reminded that Henry Cavill was playing Sherlock Holmes in the few brief scenes he appeared in, nothing about his mannerisms or actions would indicate it was him. None of that really matters though. So few of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations since the Rathbone era have captured the essence of the character and the writing that made him so enduring that it’s probably better to make a new thing and trade in on name recognition than to make another attempt at the same thing that has failed so many times before. The BBC series Sherlock and the Holmes movies that starred Robert Downey Jr. both understood this and gave their own spins on the character that made him feel fresh and entertaining enough to break from the shadow of a thousand other versions.
Enola Holmes has a light tone and aims to appeal to a younger audience with its story that leans more toward adventure than mystery, but it’s an enjoyable enough time for anyone and has enough mystery elements to please someone coming to it looking for something like Sherlock Holmes. Especially these days, some light fun is appreciated. It follows Enola after the disappearance of her mother prompts her brothers to come and try to force her into a more proper life for a woman of the time. She soon runs away in search of her mother and becomes entangled in a plot to murder a young Viscount that, as with many other Holmes stories, makes use of the women’s rights movements of the time as a motive for crime. It feels somewhat more fitting here now that we have a young female protagonist than it has with Sherlock who generally seems to feel he is above all politics and emotion and simply gets caught up in the case around it.
It’s energetic and gets through all of these plot beats with some light action scenes and a number of riddles being solved, all in fairly absurd ways that only sort of make sense but are always amusing. Most of this success comes from Millie Bobby Brown who constantly breaks the fourth wall to explain what’s happening and knows how goofy it is but can still ground it with an earnestness that feels appropriate to the film. After having to give up on Stranger Things because I found all of the children so irritating, it was a nice surprise to find that one of them is not just tolerable, but actually talented and able to lead a film. Enola Holmes isn’t a particularly remarkable film in any way and could easily be lost in the Netflix library, but it’s breezy entertainment that delivers childish action and mystery and gives its star a chance to shine. If that’s the sort of thing that sounds about right for a night where you want to turn your brain off, you could do much worse.