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.
They decided to cast a big name – Henry Cavill – as Sherlock. Fans certainly wanted 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 shared director Harry Bradbeer). She had an idyllic, if unconventional, childhood in the countryside. Her father died when she was an infant and brothers Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) were already adults.
She has a close bond with her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who taught her everything from chemistry to jiu-jitsu. Callously, Eudoria does a runner on her 16th birthday, leaving behind a trail of clues leading to London. (She might be fighting for women’s liberation, but she’s not collecting any Mother of the Year awards.)
Mycroft sends his sister to an awful boarding school run by Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). She escapes to team up with fellow runaway Viscount Tewksbury, 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, who think the country doesn’t need more uneducated voters. Errr..
It’s an easy first case, as the budding detective succeeds on charm and coded messages involving the ‘Language of Flowers’ – which was commonly used by ladies of the era.
Netflix marked the film’s release by placing a statue of Enola beside one of Sherlock Holmes on London’s Marylebone Road. It was temporary, or fans who got round to reading the 90s source material might have pulled it back down.
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 isn’t any romance between Enola and a 12-year-old Tewkesbury, who is a runaway with no connections to any wider political intrigue.
And Sherlock? He certainly doesn’t look like Henry Cavill.
The film’s message to young audiences is that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. You need to find your own path, and not be too influenced by others – especially by boys, however gorgeous Louis Partridge’s Tewksbury might be.
Her critics have missed that Enola does have a lot to learn, 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.
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.