Enola Holmes ★★★★

Of all the classic fictional characters, I think Sherlock Holmes might be my favorite. But one of my favorite things about him is how malleable he is, and how much fun various writers, directors and so forth have had playing with his legend over the century or so since he was created. Things like those Guy Ritchie movies or Barry Levinson's "Young Sherlock Holmes" may not be the most faithful adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's durable and fascinating detective, but I still love seeing how storytellers find fresh new ways to reinvent him every so often or, as in the case of "Enola Holmes", tweak his mythos in a clever and fresh way.

I never knew that Sherlock had a younger sister named Enola. He probably never did before. But, you know what? I'm fine with it. Enola has been cloistered away in the family manor with her mother, being raised to make full use of her mind in an era when society preferred women to be glorified domestic servants rather than full participants...aside, I suppose, from the Queen who was little more than a figurehead. When Enola's mother goes missing and her brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin) wants to send her to a boarding school run by Fiona Shaw, Enola escapes and sets about using every last one of her wits to solve her mother's mysterious disappearance. Along the way she encounters a young member of royalty who is on the run from his own family...as well as a man intent on killing him for unknown reasons.

I enjoy movies and TV shows about young women who are detectives. I loved "Veronica Mars", for instance, and the most recent incarnation of Nancy Drew was great fun. If nothing else, I enjoy showing my daughter films that show resourceful young women solving problems with their brain power. If such entertainment also shows this young woman kicking a fair share of ass (as Enola Holmes does) then all the better. But even if I weren't trying to mold my daughter into a free-thinking, intelligent ass-kicker, I would have watched "Enola Holmes" and still enjoyed it for its clever riff on the Holmes mythos, its solid performances (Millie Bobby Brown is pretty terrific as Enola), and its brisk and lively pacing. I liked that this film is about the importance of voting and the need to move government forward and shake it up. That's a timely, although timeless, message that we all could use right now. I half-feared that "Enola Holmes" would sideline its central message about strong women by saddling Enola with a dumb romance but the romance in question is actually well-handled and Brown has genuine chemistry with Louis Partridge who plays the wayward lord who Enola finds herself surprisingly interested in. I'm sure some people will still complain (I think I've already seen a couple of letterboxd reviews that do so) but I, personally, thought the romance was well done and actually kind of adorable. It doesn't undermine the rest of the film or Enola's character either. She's still strong, resourceful, tenacious and exciting and I would love to see further adventures of her in this fun little world. The world itself is brought to life with some beautiful production and costume design. Also, I am on record as being a sucker for movies where characters break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience so the fact that Enola does so here made me probably unreasonably happy.

"Enola" hits a couple of snags that keep it from its full potential. For one thing, I thought the "missing mother" mystery was not entirely resolved when the movie shifted focus to the "wayward lord" mystery. For another, I would have liked a little more pep from Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes. He's probably not at the bottom of the list of Holmeses I have seen, but he's merely fine without really distinguishing himself in the role.

Still, "Enola Holmes" is a rather delightful little mystery with a strong central message about not underestimating women and the importance of democracy that is told with ample style and panache. Our whole family thoroughly enjoyed it.

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