Even in the last 10 years, I can count on two hands the number of adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, either in film or on television with versions played by Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ian McKellan among the few from recent years worth mentioning. Some might say this over saturation means its time for a change, a new direction for such a well known character. Enola Holmes, based on the original novels by Nancy Springer, takes Sherlock’s world and adventures but instead follows his adolescent sister through a series of easily accessible young adult mysteries. The opening film in an aspiring series of features however is tarnished by an overuse of forth wall breaks, some exxcessive and often farcical theatrics and a frequency to underplay the family ties that make this tale worth watching.
Loosely based on Springer’s opening novel, The Case of the Missing Marquess, director Harry Bradbeer’s film follows Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), the youngest of the Holmes siblings as she sets off on an adventure to find her missing mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) who up and vanished in the middle of the night on Enola’s 16th birthday. When her brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) try to ferry her away to a finishing school and forget about their often forgotten sister, she comes up with her own plan. However her mission is pushed off track by the appearance by the titular marquess, Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) whose future is being chosen for him just like Enola’s.
Despite a clear cut story and some smartly interwoven social commentary that plays to the feminist mentality of Jack Thorne’s witty but grating script, this Victorian era story toys with the notion of Suffragettes and Suffragists and the right way to bring about change while giving Enola’s story a modern twist. Bradbeer, straight off of his work on the critically acclaimed Fleabag, plays to the irreverent tone of his prior work while still trying to say something about feminism and the silencing of not just female voices but young voices as well.
Although it does, it also seems to ignore the fact that this Enola isn’t either a joke or a soapbox, but a young inexperienced lonely girl in search of not just her mother but a purpose and a sense of belonging outside of what her family has decided for her. In fact Bradbeer through a lively but all too often forced performance by Brown seems intent on playing up the theatre of it all, so that when it comes time to take things seriously, its hard not to see anything but the well established but tiresome joke.
Despite a cast of well regarded British actors including Carter, Cavill, Claflin and an underused Burn Gorman, Holmes doesn’t provide enough for its cast to latch onto in a film that bases itself around two mysteries only to lose interest in them, instead over stuffing an already long feature with moments full of nothing but dry witticisms. This clear piece of franchise building spoils under the weight of its ambition as one mystery proves a film long tease of something yet to come. This means that the case of the Marquess is less about the conclusion, the answer, instead the case and Tewkesbury himself serve as an uninteresting piece of slight of hand, a misdirection so that you don’t realise that half of Enola Holmes is entirely hollow,
However the real glaring issue here is the constant fourth wall breaking moments of comedy as they distort a film with charm and a talented performer in Brown into something closer to expensive pantomime. Never does Bradbeer use these moments to really say anything about Enola, instead they are excuses for bad stand up or famous Holmes quotes stolen in earnest. The whole film is stuck between family drama and children’s comedy and the constant lean towards comedy makes it hard to care about anything or anyone in Enola’s orbit. It doesn’t help that Thorne and Bradbeer lose the plot around the halfway point. This is to no fault of Brown’s but unfortunately by design the film acts like a stage production on the screen and its a performance in fitting with this unwelcome shift.
Although Cavill brings about an entertaining turn as Sherlock and his slim screen time isn’t wasted as the famed detective outsmarted by his young sister it seems to be the only performance that avoids going too large in a film full of extravagance and lacking in subtlety. Despite the promise of a vehicle for Brown that would highlight her talents, Enola Holmes feels like a misstep.
Although occasionally comical and touching when it forgets the theatre of it all, Enola Holmes lacks the cohesive storytelling its central mystery requires and the sense of self to go with it to make it worth your time. If anything its the prologue to the real story and I can only hope that story figures out who Enola is outside of salty comebacks and clumsy familial squabbles.