Enola Holmes: a Nancy Drew for the Modern Age
Enola Holmes - the new Netflix film starring Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown - is straight-up delightful. The film is based on the Young Adult novel, “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” by Nancy Springer, the first in a six book mystery series starring the younger sister of renowned detective, Sherlock Holmes. When Millie Bobby Brown’s real-life sister, Paige, first saw Springer’s novels, she immediately thought her younger sister would love them. Years later, the two have teamed up to produce the movie adaptation. The film’s screenplay is written by Jack Thorne, and directed by Harry Bradbeer (Fleabag).
Enola Holmes is the type of story that I definitely would have been drawn to as a young adult. It features a strong female protagonist - quirky, but extremely intelligent - who manages to get into just as many scrapes as she gets out of. When I was younger, my mom gave me all of her old “Nancy Drew” books. I quickly devoured them and went searching for more at local used bookstores. Enola is a modern-day Nancy Drew, living in the late nineteenth century. Like Drew, Enola uses her powers of deduction to help others in need, but she seems to have more fun along the way. To add even more modern-day appeal to our heroine, she has the ability to stand up for herself - both mentally and physically - thanks to some training in Jiu Jitsu. But I am getting ahead of myself. Every hero has their origin story and Enola Holmes is no different.
The film begins with Enola - in full period dress - riding a bicycle (poorly). She tells us how her mother named her Enola “which backwards means ALONE,” and had a strong affinity for riddles and wordplay. After Enola’s father died, and her older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, left the house, she was raised and educated solely by her mother, Eudoria (played by Helena Bonham Carter). Enola spent her childhood reading books, performing science experiments and learning self-defence, all important skills, but not the traditional needlepoint that is expected of ladies during the 1800s. When her mother disappears on her sixteenth birthday, her older brothers return home to investigate. Mycroft (played by Sam Clafin) is the oldest sibling; he has been funding his mother and Enola’s care, under the delusion that she has been educated by a governess and received “appropriate” upbringing for a young lady of the time. He is the most aghast at Enola’s appearance and behavior. Sherlock (played by Henry Cavill) is more entertained and intrigued by both Enola and the disappearance of their mother.
Mycroft resolves to send Enola away to a stuffy “finishing school” for young ladies, led by Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw of Harry Potter fame). After meeting Miss Harrison, Enola decides to steal one of Sherlock’s boyhood outfits and runs away to catch a train in disguise. This is where the adventure really begins. In her attempts to find her mother and learn why she left so mysteriously, Enola crosses paths with another runaway: the young Lord Tewkesbury. Tewkesbury is being pursued by family and a hired hitman, and needs all the help he can get. I will leave it at that to avoid spoilers. Throughout the film, Enola is often faced with the concept of “being a lady,” and what it means to be a woman in a changing world. In London during the 1880s, this was a time of change. Many sought parliamentary reform. Women were working towards gaining suffrage (which they would not acquire until 1918). As Enola, Millie Bobby Brown is exceptionally entertaining as a strong-minded and even stronger-willed female lead who resists the cage of “quiet female obedience.” It may initially come as a shock for Stranger Things fans to hear “Eleven” speak with a British accent, (or even speak at all) but after a few minutes you are too engrossed in the story to dwell on it.
Sam Clafin’s portrayal of Mycroft is a bit more akin to a PG version of his performance as the cruel Hawkins from 2018’s, The Nightingale. He is entitled and constantly angry. He sees Enola as a waste of his time and money, as well as a blemish on his own reputation within society. Henry Cavill on the other hand, seems to be having a great time! As Sherlock, he portrays the brother who was initially more standoffish, but is now suddenly interested and invested in his little sister’s upbringing. He sees Enola as a kindred spirit. This is not the drug-addled, self-involved chauvinist of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels. After all, this is a Young Adult series. Watching Cavill pop up every now and then throughout the film really is a pleasure. But this film is not Sherlock’s story. It’s Enola’s through and through. In the end, Enola solves more than one mystery, and she learns that she is less alone and more capable than she initially believed.
Enola Holmes is definitely worth a watch. More so, if you also happen to be a younger viewer. It is engaging, smart and most of all, fun. It features a great cast, fun stunts, and plenty of costume changes and disguises. Along the way, our hero learns some lessons, but better yet, she realizes that she has much more to learn. As much as I enjoy her in Stranger Things, I hope Millie Bobby Brown continues to produce and keeps branching out in her future role choices. If there is a young person in your life that could benefit from a feel-good film with a good role model, steer them in the direction of Enola Holmes. I think they won’t be disappointed.
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro