Directed by Harry Bradbeer and written by Jack Thorne, based on the book series by Nancy Springer, when Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), Sherlock’s teen sister, discovers her mother missing she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord. Also starring: Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Fiona Shaw, Louis Patridge, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Susan Wokoma and Frances de la Tour.
From the word go or even if you’ve just seen the trailer, you can see how heavily this film is going to rely on the fourth wall break and it’s a style that has proved hugely successful, audiences can love that cheeky or cocky personality that comes with it but Brown’s Enola doesn’t quite hit the right tone. It quickly becomes a crutch, used far too often and with not much to actually add, it tries to recreate the pace and atmosphere of Ritchie’s adaptation but as it’s specifically made for a younger audience, it can’t quite live up to it. Luckily, it doesn’t slip into becoming a frustrating or irritating aspect, it still works but dialling it back could have improved the film.
Leading nicely into another reason why it doesn’t work as well, there isn’t a spark to Brown’s Enola, she’s a great character but the performance brings little in the way of charm, she’s likeable certainly but there’s an inescapable ingenuine quality to her that holds it back. It’s something that is perpetuated by the film’s entire style but it revolves around this difficulty of the character simply not reaching her potential, the writing makes her inconsistent, random outbursts of crying or romance feel entirely out of place. Brown has proved her acting ability and in theory this should be a perfect fit but in reality it just isn’t, the role strips her of her acting prowess and the fourth wall breaks make her feel like she’s incredibly put on. On the other hand she’s got some incredible support, Claflin and Cavill fit their roles perfectly, it was an interesting challenge to bring such iconic characters into a story from such a different perspective but they make fantastic older brothers and continue their classic rivalry of being two sides of the same coin. Carter and Shaw give similarly great performances but there isn’t enough of either of them, having such high calibre actresses in your film you need to give them a meatier role to really make use of their talents.
Though they could make a whole series based on Susan Wokoma’s Edith teaching women how to be kick-ass revolutionaries, she’s a fantastic character brought to life by a brilliant, strong, confident performance and it’s a shame that it’s another you don’t get to see enough of. Partridge gets a much larger role than expected, and in fact his performance is much more charming and genuine than Brown’s, they have a bit of a bumbling chemistry while his side feels convincing, the way that they bring through Enola’s romantic side feels forced considering her very logical persona. The two of them do however make an enjoyable pair to watch their escapades unfold. Notable mention has to go to another brief yet wonderful performance from de la Tour, a surprising but very welcome touch.
The inconsistencies with Enola’s character aren’t the only issues with the writing, the pace is hugely problematic, the film is likely 15-minutes longer than it needed to be because there’s a lot of unnecessary padding. There are continuous flashbacks to earlier moments in the film during explanations which feel clearly targeted at the youngest members of the audience who realistically can’t exactly be expected to remember what happened 30-minutes prior. Also, if you’re going to base the entirety of the film’s premise on the disappearance of Enola’s mother, it probably would have been a good idea to provide a satisfying reunion or at least some further detail on where she went, as certainly the youngest members of the audience won’t be able to fill in the gaps or know of the suffragette movement. With that exception, the progression of the story works but it simply needed to up its speed to really keep the energy going.
The direction doesn’t scream of any originality, again it feels like it’s trying to capture the spirit of Ritchie’s adaptations which is a shame. The only surprising element is perhaps the use of violence, particularly a moment involving an attempt at drowning which seems bold for a children’s adventure, a tone that crops up a few times throughout and stands out like a sore thumb. There’s also a very over-dramatic score topping the whole affair, constantly trying to push the adventure, romance or action to somewhere beyond what the film has actually created and only doing it a disservice. It’s a shame given that the film’s composer Pemberton has done such good work in the past but was trying too hard with this one.
Enola Holmes gives you exactly what you’d expect from a Sherlock adventure for children, which is ultimately its downfall, it forgot to make the film for all ages. It’s a disappointingly strange turn of events to see the charming Millie Bobby Brown turned rather charmless with this role, she has the talent but it just wasn’t a perfect fit and ends up feeling insincere. The support cast are all fantastic, if underused but there are too many elements of the film not quite working to make this the smashing adventure that it wanted to be. It’s drawn out and lacking originality but it is still an enjoyable affair, although one that debatably might have made a better mini-series.