After more than fifty novels and a bevy of TV shows and movies, the game is afoot once again. In “Enola Holmes,” Sherlock Holmes is back, played by a non-cape-sporting Henry Cavill, but leading this particular case is his sister. Enola Holmes, portrayed with wide-eyed excitement by Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things,” is directed by Henry Bradbeer.
Bradbeer’s film contains more of a “Spider-Man: Homecoming”-type spirit than your typical Sherlock Holmes adventure. Though unusual, the movie has enough twists and turns to satisfy fans of the Baker Street of old. Brown makes a compelling star to follow: Enola is clever, determined and quick on her feet, even possessing a bit of Sherlock’s I-care-about-the-case-not-the-people attitude.
What could have been a pale imitation of the seasoned detective’s game is lightened by Enola’s relationship with actor Louis Partridge’s Lord Viscount Tewkesbury, the youngest member of a royal family. Their relationship is not a direct copy of the Sherlock/Watson dynamic, but they share shades of the same banter and excitement over new discoveries.
One of the best qualities of “Enola Holmes” is how it recontextualizes Sherlock’s excitement over solving a case by showing that same gleeful satisfaction in the eyes of a child. Enola’s first case is personal: her mother, Eudoria Holmes — played by an underutilized Helena Bonham Carter — has disappeared. While some lackluster explanations gloss over elements of the case, Enola’s eagerness makes every clue, every obstacle, and every puzzle that much more exciting. Enola’s heroism comes with an added pressure: whether or not she’ll shed some of her brother’s less admirable qualities before she gets any older.
Speaking of the famed sleuth, Henry Cavill lends a unique heart and warmth to his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Since Sam Claflin already chews the scenery as a morose, constantly cruel Mycroft Holmes, Cavill wisely chose to channel his “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” suave rather than his “Witcher” scowl. In traditional “Sherlock” tales, Sherlock and Mycroft are often coldly analytical in contrast to Dr. Watson’s more empathetic nature. Since this story oddly omits Dr. Watson, Cavill’s Sherlock takes on more of Watson’s trademark empathy to lighten the adventure, leaving Claflin’s Mycroft to flaunt his signature curt attitude. The Holmes boys balance each other out.
This new angle on Holmes draws the best drama out of both Brown’s and Cavill’s performances: for some time, Sherlock has neglected Enola for his cases. Many of the best scenes in “Enola Holmes” are when people confront Sherlock about his priorities, and question whether being there for strangers is more important than being there for his sister. “Enola Holmes” brings intriguing angles to the classic “Sherlock” mythos, but beyond that, it succeeds as an easy to follow mystery that slickly mixes style, substance and wide-eyed wonder. Bring on the next case!