By LINDSEY BAHR AP Film Writer
There is a long, questionable and occasionally successful tradition of spinning off iconic literary and film characters through relatives distant and not from James Bond Jr. to John Shaft II and III. In other words, it’s not out of bounds that someone would come along and invent a little sister for Sherlock Holmes and eventually make a movie out of it.
Enola Holmes is the creation of American author Nancy Springer who wrote a series of six young adult novels about Sherlock and Mycroft’s teenage sister who becomes a detective in her own right. The lighthearted and enjoyable film adaptation stars “Stranger Things'” Millie Bobby Brown as the titular character in an origin story that is clearly an attempt to start a franchise. Thankfully it isn’t merely a “set-up” film.
We’re introduced to Enola by Enola herself, who breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the camera and audience to tell us about how her mother raised her after her much older brothers left early. It’s no surprise that the director, Harry Bradbeer, directed almost every episode of “Fleabag,” which relied heavily on this technique as well.
Enola, who tries not to think too much about the significance of the fact that her name backwards spells “Alone,” is clever and spirited and wholly isolated from the world and the social mores of Victorian-era England. She and her mother (a lovely Helena Bonham-Carter) who are fiercely independent except from each other, use their stately mansion as a playground. They practice archery and tennis indoors, blow things up in the name of science, read books and generally don’t seem all that concerned with the upkeep of anything but their minds.
So it comes as a shock when Enola wakes up one morning to find her mother gone. Even more disconcerting is when her brothers Sherlock (a probably too buff Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) return to take care of her and the estate, they don’t recognize her. The grown men are also horrified that their little sister is so rough around the edges — no hat, no gloves, no worries about manners or decorum — and decide that she must be sent to finishing school.
Naturally, Enola is not excited about the prospect of finding a husband or fitting into society and instead sneaks off to try to track down her mother instead. On her journey she becomes entangled in the life of a fellow runaway, The Viscount Tewskbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge), who becomes her first client.
Brown is a natural star and seems to be having a lot of fun with Enola and getting to do something a little more carefree than portraying the trauma stricken Eleven. And besides a gnarly head injury late in the film, “Enola Holmes” is an all-ages endeavor.
The biggest knock against “Enola Holmes” is it feels like it should or could have been a series. It’s very long and even this first story feels naturally episodic as she goes back and forth between searching for her mother and helping Tewskbury. The second is that the screenplay is only credited to Jack Thorne and this script could have benefitted from a woman’s involvement. Its feminist touchstones veer on cliché.
Brown did have a hand in producing the film, however, which is itself a neat message. Whether or not it becomes a franchise will remain to be seen. “Enola Holmes” was supposed to be a theatrical release and Netflix jumped in to take it early in the pandemic. But regardless of whether or not there are more, “Enola Homes” is the kind of movie that the preteen set will surely delight in and watch over and over. I know I would have.
“Enola Holmes,” a Netflix release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some violence.” Running time: 123 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr