“Enola Holmes” is Netflix’s newest offering in the movie department, released on the streaming platform yesterday.
It stars “Stranger Things” actress Millie Bobby Brown, this being her first film role since 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Costarring with Brown are Henry Cavill (known for his role as Clark Kent/Superman) as the famed detective Sherlock Holmes and Sam Claflin (known for playing Finnick from “The Hunger Games” franchise) as Mycroft Holmes. Also appearing in the film is acclaimed actress Helena Bonham Carter, though only in a supporting role.
For those that are not aware, “Enola Holmes” is based off of a book series written by Nancy Springer titled “The Enola Holmes Mysteries.” Enola is Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister, and her brothers are many years her elders.
To start with the positives, the acting is quite solid in this film. Brown does a great job in the lead role, capturing the youthful and free-spirited essence of the character quite well. There are some issues, which we will get into later, but most of those are due to the writing and direction and cannot be attributed to Brown’s performance.
As the brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, Cavill and Claflin do a fantastic job. Cavill’s performance is particularly noteworthy as he plays the character subtly but effectively and delivers a different Sherlock than we’ve seen of late. His Sherlock is quite different from Benedict Cumberbatch’s in the TV series “Sherlock” or Robert Downey Jr.’s in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” film series, making him more of a supporting character than one who dominates every scene.
The main problem with the film is the plot and story structure. It’s clear that the writer and director were trying to do many, many things with this film. For one, they try to blend together Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous mystery storytelling with Jane Austen and the Brontë Sister’s 19th century drama. In doing so, they create an imbalance in tone and story. The movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be. At times it’s a mystery, at times it’s a romantic teen drama and at others it’s a thriller. To state it simply, the film tries to do too much.
Thematically speaking, the story also tries to do way too much. It tries to weave themes about feminism in the 19th century with themes about lines of succession and the social structure of the time period while still having a mystery to solve. Actually, scratch that, there are multiple mysteries to solve.
The plot often shifts focus, which makes the narrative more convoluted and less cohesive. There is no A plot, but rather five C plots that the movie tries and fails to bring together at the end.
It’s much easier to make a simple story more complex than make a complex plot more simple and this film is very reflective of that.
The film also employs the cinematic device of breaking the fourth wall: when a character looks directly at the camera and begins to talk to the audience. It is often employed in comedies, with prime examples including “Deadpool,” “Spaceballs” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” It does not work as successfully in this film, in part due to the fact that this isn’t a comedy. The fourth-wall-breaking doesn’t provide anything substantial to the story and doesn’t create an original tone for the film. Its use is inconsistent and is quite jarring, and it would have been quite easy to remove from the film.
Along with the fourth-wall-breaking, the film has a bit of a nonlinear structure with many flashbacks throughout. This one is an example of a nonlinear structure that particularly hurts the narrative’s strength. If it was linear, we would have gotten much more on-screen character development between Bonham Carter and Brown’s characters, which would have made the story more emotionally resonant. Thus, not having a linear structure was a mistake, in my opinion.
In conclusion, though the film has strong acting performances, it fails to deliver a story effectively. It is far too convoluted with its messaging and plot structure and employs certain elements ineffectively as well. Thus, this film fails to earn a recommendation.