Sherlock spin-off a little too elementary
ENOLA HOLMES (M)
Enola Holmes is a non-canonical spin-off to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. In other words, he didn’t write it or create the main character. The movie, starring the remarkable Millie Bobby Brown as Enola, Sherlock’s 16-year-old sister, is based on a book by the prolific American author Nancy Springer.
Brown, the same age as her character, is the star of this movie, and the main reason to watch it. She hands her on-screen brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill aka Superman) some serious acting lessons.
The set-up is simple but effective, with Enola taking lots of cheeky peeks over the so-called fourth wall. She looks into the camera and speaks to the viewers. She even asks us questions. Brown is best known as the character Eleven from the sci-fi horror series Stranger Things.
On the July morning of her 16th birthday, Enola wakes at her provincial estate to find her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), has disappeared. We see Eudoria through flashbacks. She is an unconventional mother who has raised an unconventional daughter, one who is strong of mind and body (jujitsu will become important).
Enola’s brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), who have paid no attention to her for most of her life, arrive from London and agree their sister should be sent to a finishing school, where she can be readied to lure a husband. When she says she does not want a husband, Mycroft declares: “That’s another thing you have to have educated out of you.”
Enola escapes her brothers and heads to London to track down her mother. En route, she meets a handsome young aristocrat, Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), who also has run away from home.
They are pursued, for different reasons that merge as the plot develops, by the villain, Linthorn (Burn Gorman, known to Game of Thrones fans as the Night’s Watch rebel Karl Tanner). At one point, in murderous pursuit of the two teens, he is asked who he is working for. “England,’’ he says.
This one-word statement goes to the historical background that adds weight to this lighthearted movie (the M rating is for a few moments of theatrical violence).
The House of Lords is about to vote on women’s suffrage. Eudoria
Holmes, we know from the flashbacks, used to hold secret meetings at her home with a group of women.
And so we have the drama: two runaway teens, one looking for her mysterious mother, one being pressured over the direction of his vote in the House of Lords, the broader debate over women receiving the right to vote, and the people who want to stop that happening at any cost, for the good of “England”.
There is a lot of talent behind this movie. The director, Harry Bradbeer, has won awards for his TV work, which includes The Bill, The Cops, Fleabag and Killing Eve (Fiona Shaw, so good in that show, is the strict finishing school headmistress in this film). The writer, Jack Thorne, has adapted for the screen novels by Nick Hornby (A Long Way Down) and RJ Palacio (Wonder, which is excellent).
Yet aside from the star, they don’t quite pull it off. The villains are cliched, the plot twists are obvious and there’s a soporific sag in the middle of proceedings.
Sherlock and Mycroft, also cliched — one as unemotional, one as misanthropic — are minor characters. I don’t want to be unkind but Cavill is a dull Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps we are spoiled, in recent times, by Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller taking the role.
Speaking of Sherlock’s emotions, or lack of them, there’s an interesting legal side to this movie. The Conan Doyle Estate has sued Netflix, the author Springer and her publisher Penguin for breach of copyright.
The basis for this lawsuit is that Sherlock shows “feelings” in this book/film and in Conan Doyle’s stories that only happened in the 10 written between 1923 and 1927, after the author lost his son in World War I. Only these 10 stories remain under intellectual copyright.
I haven’t read the book, one of six in Springer’s Enola Holmes series, so I can’t say anything about it.
But having seen the film, and particularly Cavill’s performance in the scene where Enola suggests he is showing emotions, I wouldn’t put money on the lawsuit succeeding.
Henry Cavill as Sherlock, Sam Claflin as Mycroft and Millie Bobby Brown as Enola, the unfamiliar siblings in Enola Holmes