The eponymous character of Netflix’s Enola Holmes, played to perfection by Millie Bobby Brown, is the sort of movie heroine I wish I’d had when I was growing up. She’s smart, spunky, and spirited. She’s skilled with a bow and arrow, a dab hand at chess and chemistry, and she’s well-versed in the words of women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.
Most important of all, though, is the fact that she’s been taught to ignore what everyone else is doing and instead be true to herself. Always.
But how on earth, in 1900s England, did our intrepid teen manage to secure herself an education through a feminist lens? Well, because she was home-schooled by her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter).
“My mother named me Enola, which, backwards, spells ‘alone’,” Enola, speaking directly to the camera (much like the eponymous character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, this wayward teen has a habit of breaking the fourth wall).
“And yet, we were always together. And it was wonderful. She was my whole world. Which leads me onto the second thing you need to know: a week ago, I awoke to find that my mother was missing, and she did not return.”
That’s right: when Enola wakes up on the morning of her 16th birthday, she discovers that her mother has… well, she’s vanished. So, as one might expect the teen sister of famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) to do, she calls him and insists he come at once.
Annoyingly, though, he does so with fussy traditionalist Mycroft – played by an unrecognisable Sam Claflin – in tow.
As such, the investigation is stalled as Mycroft attempts to forcibly enroll Enola into the sort of educational institution that demands corsetry, obedience, and wifely skills of its girls. (Keep an eye out for the always-excellent Fiona Shaw as the fussy boarding school mistress).
Naturally, Enola takes it upon herself to escape her brothers’ clutches and track down her mother herself. And, along the way, she finds herself begrudgingly coming to the rescue of a useless boy named Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who’s being hunted by an unknown enemy.
Which, yeah, proves to be a vital plot point later on. Obviously.
In a bid to ensure her brothers never find her, Enola takes it upon herself to “become something unexpected. A lady.”
And so, dressed up in the height of Edwardian fashion, she sets to learning a dazzling array of new skills, as well as honing the ones she already has – such as solving deviously tricky word puzzles, showcasing street smart wits, and fine-tuning her jiu jitsu moves.
This film has a lot going for it: the costumes are gorgeous, the action scenes are breathtaking (there’s nothing more intense than a fight scene on a train, right?), the cast is packed full of stars, the feminist messaging is loud and proud, and the script is witty and fast-paced – albeit pretty predictable in places. Which, yeah, may prove off-putting to seasoned armchair detectives.
Make no mistake about it, though, the main pull here is Millie Bobby Brown. The young actor has already proved her mettle in Eleven in Stranger Things, but this fun frolic of a film allows her to drop the serious act and show off her playful side. With just a widening of her eyes or a flicker of an eyebrow, she conveys a whole wealth of emotion. Whenever she breaks the fourth wall, she does so confidingly, truly engaging with viewers.
And, while the precocious Enola may have proven irritating in a lesser actor’s hands, Brown keeps you rooting for her brave heroine throughout.
Overall, Enola Holmes is an easy, enjoyable watch – and sets itself up well for a sequel, even a franchise. Yes, the all-too-solvable mystery means it skews a little younger than some may like, but that only means Sherlock’s kid sister has the potential to inspire a new generation of fierce feminists.
And that, in our opinion, can only be a good thing.
Enola Holmes is available to stream on Netflix from 23 September.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
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