Friday, October 2, 2020

Solving the Mystery of Sherlock Holmes’ Little Sister

Until recently, all I knew of Millie Bobby Brown was her name. It’s an odd name, putting me in mind of someone living in a charming old farmhouse a few centuries back. Maybe, given her critical and popular success as a psychokinetic young girl on the series Stranger Things, it would be apt to think of that farmhouse as haunted.

 Millie Bobby Brown is sixteen years old. But unlike most sixteen-year-olds, she has just produced as well as starred in a new movie I’ve found genuinely enchanting. It’s Enola Holmes, based on a recent series of young-adult mysteries by Nancy Springer, who invented as her leading character a clever young sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, one who has her own gift for sleuthing her way through Victorian England. Frankly, I’d never heard of the series, but it clearly follows in the footsteps of the young-woman detective sagas of my youth. (There was the unstoppable Nancy Drew, of course, but my special favorite was a red-headed journalist named Beverly Gray who traveled the world solving mysteries while also landing scoops for her newspaper. No, I wasn’t named after her; my mother was terribly surprised to come upon a book titled Beverly Gray’s Romance while I was still in diapers. But I digress.)

 Enola Holmes, it seems, has been creatively raised in the English countryside by a strong but mysterious mother (Helena Bonham-Carter, no less) who likes to remind her that her first name, when read backward, spells “Alone” This seems pertinent when that mother suddenly disappears, leaving her clever, headstrong child to fend for herself. When her celebrated older brothers turn up to figure out how to solve the problem of Enola, they aren’t much help. The stuffy Mycroft’s goal is to send her off to a posh but sinister school for young ladies; Sherlock (played by the hunky Henry Cavill without any of the familiar Holmesian paraphernalia) seems more sympathetic to her situation, but is unwilling to give her the autonomy she craves.

 Eventually, she manages to get herself to London, meanwhile befriending a youthful aristocrat with problems of his own. As she searches for her lost mother and tries to keep the young Viscount Tewkesbury out of harm’s way, she is able to put to use various aspects of her singular education, including a familiarity with codebreaking, chess, and jiujitsu. This being a story pointed toward today’s young women, there’s no surprise that it contains a strong feminist point of view. I must say I rather enjoyed seeing Tewkesbury (who’s amiable and good-looking but not overly brave) repeatedly cower while Enola takes care of business.

 This film would not have succeeded so well without first-rate production values. There’s a lively score by David Pemberton and some charming visuals (paper cut-outs and such) used to bridge scenes and quickly provide information. But Enola Holmes is truly in the hands of Brown, with whom it’s easy indeed to fall in love. The script calls for her to speak, on many occasions, directly to the viewer, and her combination of girlish gusto and Sherlockian smarts proves irresistible. She also gets to wear disguises, transforming herself into everything from an elegant young sophisticate to a ragamuffin boy of the streets. She seems, all in all, to be having a wonderful time, which is why we can presuppose that there’s another Enola Holmes mystery waiting in the wings. The series was apparently brought to Brown by her older sister Paige, who shares a producer-credit with the young star. Hurrah for them both! It’s nice to see the future of cinema in good hands.


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