Sherlock Holmes is one of the most malleable characters in fiction. Like a pasty heap of Yorkshire pudding in the shape of a man, he can be molded into just about anything the changing times demand. A misanthropic action hero (Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes), an acerbic doctor (House), or perhaps most sacrilegious of all, an American immigrant (Elementary). All of these make for fun stories. It’s simply a pleasure watching someone who is very smart and unconcerned with social niceties solve mysteries no one else can seem to crack. But must he and his world be so white and male?
Netflix’s Enola Holmes is the latest attempt to free Sherlock stories of these burdens, or at least one of them. Based on a series of young adult novels by Nancy Springer, the film introduces us to Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), the kid sister of Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) Holmes. Much younger than her brothers, Enola (That’s “alone” backwards, as she will tell you more than once) was raised in an isolated childhood by her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). At least until her sudden disappearance, which prompts her brothers to return home in order to send Enola to finishing school, where she can learn to be a proper lady.
Of course, like many great stories about young girls, being a proper lady is the last thing Enola wants to do. Talented like her more famous brothers in the skills of observation, recollection, and deduction, Enola suspects that there is more to her mother’s disappearance than meets the eye and decides to ditch finishing school to find her. In short order, she stumbles upon the very first case of her own: the runaway Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who seems to have an assassin on his trail.
As an adaptation of a YA book series, Enola Holmes isn’t out to be a clever reinvention, just a pleasant and progressive one, envisioning a world where a young woman can prove herself just as capable, if not more so, than grown men who are afforded the space to be brilliant and whatever they wish. It tells you this with its outside voice, both in Enola’s narration and again through character’s conversations with one another, unwilling to break from the YA fiction tradition of declaring its themes out loud.
In spite of this, the movie still charms. Millie Bobby Brown, free to monologue to the viewer and traipse about London disguised as a boy, seems to be having a ball — especially compared to her dour Stranger Things character. Henry Cavill is perhaps the last British actor I’d guess would play Sherlock Holmes, but he’s great; your grown-ass football player brother who gave up the NFL to clothesline dudes with his mind instead of his muscles. Louis Partridge is a great Viscount-in-distress and foil to Enola. Everyone is charming in a very British way except Mycroft Holmes, because someone in the story has to be a little misogynist.
Should Enola Holmes, like the book it’s based on, be the first in a series, that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. The whole endeavor plays like a Disney Channel original with a Hollywood budget; one that would be really nice to check in on with another movie or two over the next few years. No one’s going to forget Sherlock Holmes. He’s been around forever and will continue to reappear and be reinvented. Hanging out with Enola doesn’t seem all that bad; if nothing else, it’s a nice change.