Director Harry Bradbeer, who helmed almost every single episode of Fleabag, brings that series’ iconic fourth-wall break to Enola’s story, providing the loner girl with the closest thing to friends in an audience she engages with directly. Yet the device isn’t nearly as effective as when Phoebe Waller-Bridge does it, not least because Enola’s asides hardly ever shock. Despite being a fledgling detective, she’s surprisingly candid about her intentions to most everyone she meets, so when she makes eye contact with the camera, she’s rarely imparting new and shocking information or a drastically different read on a situation.
Enola shares her brother’s knack for disguises, shrewdly moving throughout London and the surrounding area in a variety of personas; an especially amusing recurring joke is when she frequently offers to trade outfits with random boys (sneakier than showing her face in a garment shop, and cheaper too). This code-switching across society allows her to convincingly occupy every role from newspaper boy to black-swathed widow, without any of them defining her. Because the real Enola is a patchwork of all of these identities.
While Enola clearly inherited the Holmes family’s wits, she lacks the real-world experience that hones such deductive skills, and winds up reacting just as much as anticipating new contacts and clues. It’s a refreshing change from mysteries in which Sherlock has all the answers, allowing the viewer to follow along with Enola as she explores Eudoria’s network of fellow revolutionary women and their ties to the suffragette movement. Yet once she uncovers signs of a greater conspiracy, Enola begins to wonder at her mother’s capacity for violence in the name of changing the world order.
By adapting the first of Springer’s popular YA novels and combining it with the period-appropriate conflict of women’s suffrage, Enola Holmes makes lofty pronouncements about changing long-established systems to make space for women and people of color. And some of it feels like terribly unsubtle lip service, at least to more cynical audiences, but one exchange stands out: Eudoria’s friend Edith (Susie Wokoma), who runs a tea shop and teaches jiu jitsu to young women on the top floor, challenges Sherlock that his apathy for helping his sister or mother is because the world as-is perfectly suits him—and he has the grace to look abashed.
This movie had the amusing unintentional PR boon of getting sued by the Conan Doyle estate for depicting Sherlock as having (dear me) emotions—a trait that does not exist in the public domain because the stories that did delve into his feelings are still under copyright for a few more years. Yet Cavill’s Sherlock arguably has a pretty limited character arc that could best be described as “begrudgingly affectionate,” while Claflin’s Mycroft is a delightful dandy who gets to sputter a few times but is mostly ineffectual. Both brothers could do with more screen time, but because this is Enola’s coming-of-age story, they are mostly relegated to a few obligatory scenes.