Everyone loves a famous fictional bloodline. In the 1990s, author Nancy Springer used the beloved Sherlock Holmes canon as a springboard for her young adult (YA) mystery novel series, and the revered detective gained a baby sister.
Palpably aimed at youngsters (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 did choose to cast a big name- Henry Cavill – as Sherlock. Fans certainly wanted to see ‘his take’ on the detective. Amidst all the media frenzy over what is essentially just a family film, there was a bit of macho resentment that a popular actor in such an iconic role might be outdone by a girl.
We establish that our heroine likes to talk to the camera Fleabag-style (courtesy of director Harry Bradbeer). She had an idyllic, if unconventional, childhood in the countryside. Her father died when she was an infant, and Sherlock and older brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin) left home to be masters of the universe.
She does share a close bond with her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who taught her loads of cool stuff, from chess and chemistry to archery and jiu-jitsu.
Callously, Eudoria does a runner on her daughter’s 16th birthday, leaving behind a trail of clues that draw us to London. While hunting for her mother, Enola has to evade Mycroft, who wants to send her to a boarding school run by Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw).
She teams up with fellow runaway Viscount Tewksbury, a sensitive soul rejecting a predetermined life of military service. They get embroiled in a conspiracy revolving around the Reform Act being 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’, commonly used by ladies of the era.
She’s aged up from the first novel, where she was 14 when her mother left to join a group of travellers. Bonham Carter is fighting for the women’s liberation cause (and still not collecting any Mother of the Year awards.) Luckily, there’s zero hint of any real danger; Enola thrives in an 1880s chocolate-box London.
The 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, blah blah blah.
Her critics have missed that Enola does have a lot to learn, and there’s scope for Sherlock to have a bigger mentor role in any sequels. He gets his own arc, which led to a lot of whooping on Twitter; in today’s parlance, the nineteenth century sleuth gets his privilege checked.
The film has flaws – it’s safe, lightweight, it’s clearly padded for time – but it’s entertaining enough. Brown gives an accomplished performance, showing she can carry on the Holmes legacy.