"Enola Holmes" (2020)- Movie Review

Directed by Harry Bradbeer

Written by Jack Thorne (based on book by Nancy Springer)

Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin

‘A Delightful Period Piece’

Few figures in English literature have been as frequently portrayed in films as Sherlock Holmes. Ever since he was first introduced in 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth has inspired several film adaptations. While Holmes has gained a huge fan following, his stories have also attracted a fair share of criticism. The detective’s stories have often been criticized for their absence of strong female characters. Sherlock Holmes was originally conceived during the 1800’s, an era when women’s societal roles were restricted by traditional social standards. For these reasons, it is rare to come across compelling heroines in Holmes adaptations.

In this regard, Harry Bradbeer’s latest film “Enola Holmes” is like a breath of fresh air. A clever, witty and delightful period piece, it offers a unique feminist spin on the classic source material. With his debut feature, director Harry Bradbeer has crafted an astonishing adaptation of Nancy Springer’s beloved book. Packed with gorgeous production values, engrossing storytelling and fantastic performances, it is a highly effective adaptation. Although “Enola Holmes” is undeniably enjoyable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It is slightly long, and builds to a formulaic conclusion that lacks originality. Nonetheless, it offers old-fashioned entertainment that fans of the celebrated detective won’t be able to resist.

Set in 19th Century Victorian England, “Enola Holmes” tells the story of a teenage girl that defies social norms to become a heroine. Millie Bobby Brown stars in the titular role as Enola Holmes, a resourceful girl with a talent for sleuthing. Enola dreams of becoming an independent woman, but is discouraged by her strict older brothers. However, Enola’s life forever changes when she sets out on a quest to search for her mysterious missing mother. As Enola gains newfound autonomy, she challenges restrictions imposed upon women in society.

Director Harry Bradbeer is a newbie to Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Bradbeer is an acclaimed television director that is best known for the Emmy-winning comedy series “Fleabag”. “Enola Holmes”, however, marks his first period piece and foray into the literature of the legendary sleuth. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to bring a female heroine to the universe of Sherlock Holmes, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using gorgeous cinematography, Bradbeer draws viewers into the life of an adolescent girl searching for her vanished mother in the 1800’s. From captivating close-ups to mesmerizing fourth-wall breaking shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s 19th Century setting. Working alongside cinematographer Gilles Nuttgens, Bradbeer creates a breathtaking film in which each frame is like an attractive painting brought to life. Bradbeer excels at immersing viewers into the world of a female detective, and his latest feature is worth watching on Netflix for this reason alone.

If stories of distinguished detectives do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to stream “Enola Holmes”. The film is extremely well-made, and features the most exquisite production values that you’ll ever see in a book adaptation. The production sets, costumes and musical score are all carefully chosen, combining to create an immersive movie-going experience. Bradbeer proves to be an expert at designing the costumes for his film. Assisted by costume-designer Consolata Boyle, Bradbeer creates elaborate costumes that illustrate the development of characters. For instance, Enola’s extraordinary dresses showcase her transformation from an oppressed girl into a feminist heroine. Moreover, the musical score is also worth mentioning. Daniel Pemberton’s classical score is highly effective. It gives the film a joyous and energetic atmosphere. Through phenomenal production values, Bradbeer keeps viewers engrossed in the journey of Sherlock Holmes’s sister.

Another admirable aspect of “Enola Holmes” is the screenplay. Jack Thorne’s greatest strength as a screenwriter is his willingness to take risks with the source material by breaking the fourth wall. When adapting beloved literature to the big-screen, most screenwriters use conventional storytelling and stick close to the source material. This often leaves no room for surprises and detracts from the movie-going experience. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “Enola Holmes”. The film features spellbinding fourth-wall breaking monologues during which Enola converses directly with the audience. Using this ingenious narrative technique, Thorne effectively conveys Enola’s feisty personality. Thorne creates a fascinating female character whom viewers can easily identify with. Breaking the fourth wall is a problematic narrative technique to employ in a literary adaptation. When used inappropriately, it can become a distraction and detract from the viewer’s engagement. However, it works tremendously in this movie. Using an unconventional screenplay, Thorne keeps viewers invested in a whimsical world.

It is hard to not admire the astonishing performances from the cast. Every star gets the chance to shine, but the film is mainly a stunning showcase for its leading actress.

Millie Bobby Brown delivers her finest performance to date as Enola Holmes. Following her breakout turn in “Stranger Things”, Brown has proven to be a gifted child actress with a flair for playing heroines. With “Enola Holmes”, however, she takes on her most complex role to date. It is not easy to portray an adolescent girl that resists social norms in the 1800’s. It’s a demanding role that requires a great degree of commitment from the actress. However, Brown pulls it off effortlessly. With captivating expressions, she conveys the bravery, intelligence and free-spirited persona of Sherlock Holmes’ mystery-solving sleuth sister. It’s an unforgettable performance from one of the most talented child actresses working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Henry Cavill is excellent, infusing emotional depth into a fresh and distinctive depiction of Sherlock Holmes. Louis Partridge is fantastic and brings subtle romantic tension to the movie as Enola’s love interest Tewkesbury. And finally, it is hard to not mention Sam Claflin. As Enola’s cruel brother Mycroft, he brings hilarious comical relief to the movie.

Although “Enola Holmes” is undeniably an astonishing literary adaptation, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a lengthy running-time. Accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s jovial score, Bradbeer keeps the film moving at an engrossing pace during its first hour. However, once the film enters its final act, it starts to lose momentum and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, the film is hindered by a formulaic conclusion. After building suspenseful mystery for two hours, Bradbeer ends the film on an anti-climactic note. It’s an overly sentimental finale that overwhelms viewers with its feminist message. Consequently, it isn’t entirely effective at bringing the film to a satisfying closure. Sherlock Holmes adaptations thrive based on the power of their endings, and in this regard “Enola Holmes” falls short of expectations.

Nevertheless, fans of the famous detective will definitely enjoy “Enola Holmes” and so will movie-goers seeking light-hearted entertainment. An amazing adaptation of the beloved book, it offers a feminist take on the literary character. In a genre dominated by Sherlockian masculine heroes, it’s an empowering reminder that the stories of little-known women deserve to be seen and heard.

4/5 stars

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