Tuesday, September 22, 2020

She's young but she's still a Holmes


    Welcome to the world of young-adult fiction courtesy of the Holmes family.
     Yes, we're talking about that Holmes family, the one that produced the crime-solving genius named Sherlock. But this is Holmes with a difference. 
     As we quickly learn, Enola Holmes (a vibrant Millie Bobby Brown) is a 16-year-old with two older brothers: Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin).  
     Enola barely knows her brothers. She lives with her eccentric mother (Helena Bonham Carter) on an isolated, disheveled estate. Housekeeping aside, Mom has schooled Enola in everything from science to jujitsu.
     Enola couldn't be happier with her life until the fateful day when Mom disappears. Not to worry: It's obvious that Mom's disappearance eventually will be explained and chalked up to  noble motives. 
    In the meantime, the movie unfolds, a take on the Holmes’ stories that tries to open stuffy Victorian rooms filled with pipe smoke and blow a fresh breeze through air that can become as thick as clogging arteries.
    Mycroft, a Holmes of patrician instincts and sour disposition, takes over the care of Enola after Mom vanishes. He wants to send her to a finishing school run by a woman (Fiona Shaw) who believes it's her job to make young women into socially acceptable marriage fodder.
     If on-the-nose dialogue were outlawed, Enola Holmes would fall silent during some of its biggest moments. Director Harry Bradbeer, who has worked on Fleabag and Killing Eve, clearly defines the movie's conflict: Emerging feminism bumps heads with tradition-bound gender roles.  I don't think I need to tell you which side the movie takes.
    The movie's mystery revolves around an 1884 move to reform British law to expand the vote  -- although not to women. Where characters line up a vis-a-vis a reform measure, idling at the time in the House of Lords, clues us as to their motivations. 
    An Arthur Conan Doyle plot has been tweaked to give it a pop-cultural kick in the posterior and to ensure that Enola has something to do throughout the movie. 
    Her mission is twofold. First, she must find her mother. Second, she appoints herself as the unofficial protector of Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), a young man who's fleeing a hired assassin (Burn Gorman). To ensure that we recognize him, this assassin always appears in a trademark derby hat. 
     OK, enough about plot.  
     Although the movie, suffers a lag at the three-quarter mark, Bradbeer mostly keeps things moving and Brown's performance proves infectiously engaging, with frequent winks at convention when Enola breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience. 
    Bradbeer eventually ties the movie's threads together and creates an ending which suggests that Enola's adventures will be on-going. 
    If you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, you may be a bit disappointed. As Sherlock, Cavill doesn't have much to do. Sherlock has a kinder view of his sister than does his older brother but neither sibling is around long enough to make major contributions. 
     Ultimately, the movie's interest is tied to the ways in which  Bradbeer adds oomph to a 19th century tale, giving it values more suited to the current moment than to those of the period in which the story unfolds.
     At its best, Enola Holmes -- adapted from author Nancy Springer's Enola series of books -- has plenty of verve. If brio were a stock, the filmmakers have invested heavily. 
     And if Netflix has a series in mind, they found the right actress to play Enola. Intelligent and sharp-witted, Brown gives the movie just the center it needs.
     Besides, the 16-year-old Brown — listed as one of the seven people with a producer credit for Enola Holmes — may have something to say about how any future movies are cast. Also listed as a producer, Brown’s 26-year-old sister, Paige.
     Evidently the Holmeses aren't the only relatives holding some sway here. Whatever the case, a well-assembled team has gotten the job done and seems poised to continue now that origin-story obligations have been met.

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