Everyone loves a famous fictional bloodline. When author Nancy Springer used the beloved Sherlock Holmes canon as a springboard for her young adult novel series, the revered detective gained a baby sister.
Palpably family-friendly (my friend’s 12-year-old loved it), the Netflix adaptation is a star vehicle for Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown – a bit like, say, Ballet Shoes was for Emma Watson.
With Henry Cavill, they decided to cast a big name as Sherlock. He’s only in a supporting role, but this didn’t stop fans from wanting to see ‘his take’ on the detective. Part of the media frenzy over what is essentially just a kid’s flick was macho resentment that a popular actor in an iconic role might be outdone by a girl.
Fast forward to the plot…
We establish that our heroine likes to talk to the camera Fleabag-style (courtesy of director Harry Bradbeer). Flashbacks show an idyllic, if rather unconventional childhood in the countryside. Her father died when she was an infant and brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) were already grown men living in London.
With it being just the two of them, Enola develops a particularly close bond with her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who teaches her everything from chemistry to jiu-jitsu. Then, mysteriously, Eudoria vanishes on her daugher’s 16th birthday, leaving behind a trail of clues leading to the capital.
Servants send for the brothers, where Mycroft’s plans involve sending his sister to an prim boarding school run by Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia (AKA Fiona Shaw). Having other ideas, Enola teams up with the runaway Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), a sensitive soul rejecting a life of military service. They get embroiled in a conspiracy revolving around a historically vague ‘Reform Act’, which is opposed by traditionalists like Mycroft, and some very early proto-Suffragettes.
Netflix marked the film’s release by placing a statue of Enola beside one of Sherlock Holmes on London’s Marylebone Road. Good thing it was only temporary, or fans who got round to reading the 90s source material might have pulled it back down.
Book Enola isn’t quite so ready for “modern audiences”. Springer’s London is a grittier, less diverse place than Netflix’s picturesque capital. Her Enola hates corsets, but would consider jiu-jitsu unladylike at best. The character is younger in the novel at just 14 years old. She never sets foot at boarding school, spending a portion of the book cycling through the countryside.
There ertianly isn’t any teen romance between Enola and a 12-year-old Tewkesbury, who has no connections to any wider political intrigue. And Sherlock? He certainly doesn’t look like Henry Cavill.
The film’s message
From the 164-page novel the resulting adaptation is safe, lightweight and necessarily padded for time. It is at least entertaining enough for very young audiences, with Brown giving an accomplished, contemporary central performance.
Critics have missed that Enola certainly doesn’t hit the screen knowing it all, leaving a lot of scope for Sherlock to have a bigger mentor role in any sequels. He gets a few moments which led to a lot of whooping on Twitter; in today’s parlance, the nineteenth century sleuth gets his privilege checked. It’s an easy first case, as our budding detective relies on charm and coded messages involving the ‘Language of Flowers’ – commonly used by ladies of the era.
The film’s message to young audiences is that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. It’s about needing to find your own path, and not being influenced by others – especially by boys, however gorgeous Louis Partridge’s Tewksbury might be.