Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, and Sam Claflin star in Netflix's Enola Holmes, the upbeat and enjoyable YA adventure debuting Sept. 23 that is likely to breed sequels for the streaming service. This is a playful, dress-up kind of movie for kids and adults that reminded me of older classics that used to come packaged in enormous clamshell VHS cases way back when. I mean this very much as a compliment, and I suspect that Enola Holmes will be well-liked by young people, and parents who watch along won't feel the itch to go into the other room to do something else.
The almost comically handsome Cavill is the legendary genius detective Sherlock Holmes, and Claflin is his frowny, conservative older brother Mycroft. But they are very much supporting characters. The star and narrator is Brown as their spirited and independent kid sister, Enola. She is warm, funny, charming, just as good a sleuth as her big brother Sherlock, and, in a surprise twist, quite the street brawler when she needs to be. A good deal of solid comedy is derived from Brown's quick asides (or even just glances) to the camera, and if that reminds you of Fleabag,it's no coincidence: director Harry Bradbeer helmed 11 out of 12 episodes of that show.
But Enola Holmes is certainly family fare (it was adapted from Nancy Springer's YA series by Jack Thorne, who wrote the Harry Potter play The Cursed Child) and there's nothing less chaste than a held hand. Our story begins on Enola's 16th birthday, when she discovers that her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) has disappeared. The Holmes brothers return, somewhat shocked to find the house in disrepair and Enola not enrolled at a haughty finishing school.
What Mother has been doing with all of Mycroft's money is something of a twist, but it may not surprise you to learn that she has been educating Enola on her own quite well, thank you very much, and has instilled in her not only a sharp worldliness, but an ur-feminist bent. The chase is soon on between Enola (who escapes Mycroft's despatch to a cruel boarding school) and Sherlock to be the first to find the vanished matriarch.
And then: an obstacle. Enola runs into the dreamy Louis Partridge as the foppishly-coiffed Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether. In a delightful reversal, it's the Marquess, on the run from his ruthless uncle and his own impending lordship, who is the damsel in distress. All Tewksbury wants is to work in a flower shop and be free. There is an adorable arc of puppy love here, but what's key is that Enola is clearly in the driver's seat, and Tewksbury at no point feels the need to get defensive about that. Why would anyone want to lead the dance when your partner is a fiery, kid-sister to Sherlock Holmes?
The acts of rescuing Tewksbury and finding Mother naturally converge, and do so in ways that include uncovering clues, wearing many disguises (adorable Millie Bobby Brown in a whalebone corset and in suspenders!), outfoxing Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade (played by Adeel Akhtar in this version), and even stealing a very early automobile.
There are probably a few anachronisms in here (cutaways reminiscent of early silent cinema don't quite make sense this far back in time), and more than once Enola makes an "of course!" revelation based on some fact that was probably given a better spotlight in the book but zooms by way too quickly in the film to register. (As such, it feels like the movie remembers something even the keenest observers in the audience never could.) These are extremely minor grievances in an otherwise enjoyable picture that is also marinated in a philosophy of inclusion. (It is easy to read this film as an anti-Brexit text, but not in a hammer-to-head kind of way.)
Enola Holmes could be a one-off, but it would be a shame if that were the case. Not only are the main characters terrific, but this is a great way for British talent to put on period clothes and show up for a quick guest appearance, hopefully for years to come.
TV Guide Rating: 3.5/5
Enola Holmes premieres Wednesday, Sept. 23 on Netflix.