By Nadia Dalimonte
Millie Bobby Brown and Helena Bonham Carter in Enola Holmes (2020)
Enola Holmes is an energetic, charming adventure that investigates divided loyalty and the power of taking one’s own path. Millie Bobby Brown, playing her first lead role in a feature, brings plenty of charisma to the title character in an empowering narrative about self-discovery, family ties, and the wrestling for succession in a changing world. Set in 1884 England and based on the book series by Nancy Springer, the film tells the story of free-spirited teenage Enola (Brown) on a mission to follow her own path. Her sleuthing skills are put to the test when she discovers that her mother (Helena Bonham Carter), who raised her to be independent, has disappeared.
Left alone, Enola sullenly finds herself under the wing of her brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill), both of whom have not so much even written to her since they last saw her many years ago. The brothers decide to split up their responsibilities - Sherlock will solve the case of their mother’s disappearance, while Mycroft will keep Enola under control. His idea of caring for his little sister is to ship her off to finishing school, where she can become a “proper” girl defined by domestic responsibility. In true free spirit, Enola outwits them both and embarks on a London-bound journey to solve the case herself, while fending off those trying to reign her in and stumbling upon a new mystery along the way. On her travels, she becomes entangled with young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), on the run from his seemingly domineering family. She at first dismisses their train encounter, but upon discovering that his life is in danger, she narrates her inclination to help someone who doesn’t have the strength to help himself. What begins as a life saved turns into a case of divided loyalties and succession within a family bracing for a country on the brink of change.
The closer Enola gets to finding her mother, the more imminent the danger looms above Tewkesbury, and the story shifts gears at a crossroads. Enola breaks the fourth wall, which she does often throughout the film, to declare that her mother can wait as this silly boy needs more urgent help. The shift feels disappointing at the time it occurs, mainly because up until this point the screenplay has done a splendid job establishing the mother-daughter relationship. There are many charming little sequences of Enola finding herself in situations that we see mirror memories with her mother, stressing all the lessons learned as a child that she can now apply in real life. Plus, the two actresses are wonderful in their roles, more so Brown who totally captures that energetic zest for independence and carries the film on her shoulders. I wanted the story to continue in that direction. But with the film’s conclusion and in retrospect, the shift pieces nicely together as part of the narrative.
The Tewkesbury mystery bits don’t leave for a particularly groundbreaking discovery, and the familial storyline is not nearly as intriguing as Enola’s. While the film lacks in that respect, it’s refreshing in a number of different ways. The familial tie to Sherlock (solid work by Cavill) doesn’t overshadow Enola’s journey as a detective in her own right. What’s also refreshing to discover is the way in which the film depicts her mother's whereabouts, avoiding a typical buildup to a reveal. There are much more satisfying reveals during the actual search, which paint a bigger picture of who her mother is and what she’s fighting for. Reveals are in detailed moments, whether it be a neat closeup of a woman’s suffragette meeting poster or a wonderful jiu-jitsu meeting between Enola and her mother’s friend Edith (Susan Wokoma). The breadcrumbs left behind all come together in HBC's final scene with Brown, an emotional moment of growth between mother and daughter. In searching for her mother, Enola follows breadcrumbs to self-discovery and female empowerment. In her mother’s words, there are two paths she could take. Hers, or the path others choose for her. Enola chose hers. Her life is her own, and the future is up to us.