The new Enola Holmes movie, based on the Nancy Springer series, sees its adolescent heroine on the brink of a full-fledged career in detection like her more famous sibling. Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) has opened an investigation agency but finds it hard to either get taken seriously or crawl out from under the shadow of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill).
Can it be entirely the fault of the sceptical clients, who object not only to Enola’s gender but also her very obvious youth? Nobody’s idea of a gentlewoman detective, Enola nevertheless manages feats of brilliance aided by her curiosity, courage and the Holmesian dictum “don’t get emotional”.
The films, like the young adult fiction on which they are based, offer an alternate history of nineteenth-century England. From inventing a new image for Sherlock Holmes to conjuring up a Holmes matriarch – the anarchist Eudora (Helena Bonham-Carter) – the series cleverly re-imagines detective work as a quest for women’s empowerment, racial justice and morally just policy-making. In this realm, it’s a badge of honour for women to be described as trouble-makers, as Eudora is so fond of reminding Enola.
Enola Holmes 2 has been inspired by a real-life labour movement led by Sarah Chapman in 1888. If Eudora’s disappearance in the first movie sparked off Enola’s adventures, the new film similarly revolves around a vanishing.
Enola’s first case is handed to her by a girl who barely reaches her waist. The button-cute Bessie (Serranna Su-Ling Bliss) lives in the grimier parts of London and works at a match factory. Bessie’s elder sister Sarah (Hannah Dodd), who also works at the factory, is not only missing but accused of theft and blackmail.
The game is afoot for Sherlock too, who is chasing a financial scam that suggests the work of a mathematical brain. The delightfully named Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) pops up once again to remind Enola that even gumshoes need human company. While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the plot is headed, director Harry Bradbeer and writer Jack Thorne cook up an agreeable confection, as over-egged as it is nicely flavoured.
The sequel works hard to create momentum, having Enola dart from here to there and using animation and visual effects to connect scenes. There are flashbacks to moments that happened not too long ago. Even Enola’s direct-to-camera addresses have a heightened quality to them. Unlike Sherlock, who treats Enola with the respect befitting a grown-up, the film isn’t always confident of its audience’s ability to follow the plot.
Although not as cleanly plotted or novel as its predecessor, Enola Holmes 2 benefits once again from excellent casting decisions, a handsome production design that recreates Victorian-Era London, and an irreverent examination of the Sherlock Holmes canon. Just when it appears that the film’s makers have exhausted ways to address contemporary political concerns through a period lens, Enola Holmes 2 pulls a new rabbit out of the hat that threatens to challenge everything we think we know about the Holmesian universe.