For a movie about Sherlock Holmes's sister, you'd expect an intriguing mystery, a few nice twists, and some good old-fashioned deductive reasoning. Enola Holmes, however, puts the sleuthing on the back burner, spending more time on chaste flirting between its title character (Millie Bobby Brown) and a handsome, age-appropriate swain (Louis Partridge). It's an inconsequential romp with light feminist overtones, fleeting entertainment for preteen girls. If it was the product of focus group testing, I wouldn't be surprised.
The film is based on American author Nancy Springer's first Enola Holmes novel. (She has written six of them.) I haven't read the book, but I assume it puts more emphasis on the mystery than this adaptation. The plot unfurls in Victorian England, when 16-year-old Enola learns that her beloved mother (Helena Bonham Carter, seen mostly in flashback) has vanished, and decides to track her down. Elder brother Mycroft, portrayed as a chauvinistic prig by Sam Claflin, will have no such thing, and tries to force the willful Enola into an oppressive finishing school for girls. She flees, of course, and soon finds herself sidetracked when she bumps into a fellow teenage runaway (Partridge), a dark-eyed, floppy-haired aristocrat. Mum can wait.
As Enola's other brother Sherlock, Henry Cavill pops in a few times as a bland, supportive Superman type. He gives us no sense of the eccentric genius we expect from the famous detective. The rest of the male characters, save our love interest, are sexist dimwits, and the women are either strong-willed suffragists or reactionary shrews. The story may be set in 1900, but its point of view is pure 2020. You half expect Enola to whip out her iPhone from time to time.
Brown, who produced Enola Holmes with her sister Paige, proves herself a worthy leading lady. This won't be news to anyone who knows her from Stranger Things. She is plucky, charismatic, and shockingly confident. One of Enola Holmes's gimmicks is that Enola frequently addresses the camera, Fleabag style. (It's no coincidence that director Harry Bradbeer previously helmed nearly every episode of Fleabag.) This is rarely a good idea, but Brown pulls it off.
Enola Holmes's intended audience should have a good enough time, although it's hard to believe that this was originally slated for theatrical release, and only wound up on Netflix because the Covid pandemic shut down cinemas. It very much feels like a TV movie.