I read the book, so why not see the movie?
I’ll admit that my hopes going into the recent Netflix film Enola Holmes (2020) weren’t high — not just because the source novel was such thin beer, but also because the adaptation was handled by Jack Thorne, who recently did such a terribly pale job of adapting Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (1995) into the first series of His Dark Materials (2019) that I’ve still not watched the final episode, never mind the second and third series. And, as it happens, my fears weren’t entirely unfounded, as the diverting hour of historical japes and entertaining characters that exists here is mired in a film that’s 124 minutes long and filled with far too much flavourless stuffing.
In common with the book, it begins with Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) waking on her birthday — here her sixteenth rather than fourteenth as in the novel — to discover that her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) has left, never to return. In short order, Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) are therefore recalled to their family pile to offer what assistance they can in finding her. Here comes the first of the very odd decisions, since Claflin is clearly younger than Cavill but playing the older brother as per the canon — Claflin’s good, he always is, investing Mycroft with a prickly, commandeering air that fits as well as anything with a character who’s far more informed by non-canonical texts than Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories…but even when Cavill’s calling him “older brother” it just never feels right.
Soon, Mycroft is packing Enola off to boarding school against her wishes and, escaping this fate before it can be put into action, she encounters the case of the missing Marquess of Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), finds him in record time, and the two head to a Victorian London captured with admirable hustle and bustle before separating so that Enola can look for her mother. And, as per the book, and with a little motivation as is found there, she then decides to give this up because she fears for Tewkesbury’s life and instead helps him and…I dunno, it’s something of a mess from here, with a too thin plot stretched out to excessively thin ends which are abandoned only so that jarring changes in tone can be introduced to liven the whole thing up a bit.
Flashes of entertainment show through, not least in a strong cast that includes a very menacing Burn Gorman, and the excellent Adeel Akhtar — easily the highlight of almost everything he’s in, including the recent Back to Life (2019-21) on the BBC — as Inspector Lestrade. Chases aplenty ensue, and director Henry Bradbeer frames some excellent shots and always manages to secure a clear sense of locational geography so that the various, impressively-staged fights don’t lose impact by being cut to ribbons to hide substandard stunt work. In this regard, it’s a shame that the finale takes place almost entirely in darkness — a baffling decision given how strong so much of his work is elsewhere — but when you can see the film it’s undeniably worth looking at.
The biggest difficulty for me remains Thorne’s script, which is both woefully dismissive of the canon — talking in The Diogenes Club, I ask you — and so tediously paced that what fun there is to be had here gets thoroughly wrung out via extended sequences of Enola At Boarding School, or a final 20 minutes which seem to take up the entire second half of the film and cram in more endings than third Lord of the Rings entry The Return of the King (2003). Thorne is also too reliant on Enola having picked up on telling details in a single brief moment…which would be fine if this observational capacity were in evidence anywhere else, rather than lazily used to forward a plot that’s difficult to summarise and yet also far too simplistic for the duration of the film that contains it.
It’s not all bad — the deduction around the military medal is, I’ll admit, a nice touch — and Brown makes an engaging heroine, giving the material life where there’s space for her to do so. Plus, there’s something faintly wooden about Cavill which gives his Sherlock an otherworldly air (it’s performances like this which make me wish we’d seen more of his effortless Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), but that films tanks horribly in the second half and never deserved a sequel). It was only the goodwill generated by the cast (and, sure, the need to generate a blog post…) which kept me watching, and I can’t honestly say I’ll return for the sequel.
Next up: the t-shirt.
2 thoughts on “#1041: Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves in Enola Holmes (2020) [Scr. Jack Thorne, Dir. Harry Bradbeer]”
I think I enjoyed this a bit more than you, but I think the sequel is better. Although Claflin’s not in it, if that’s a deal-breaker,..
A pure Sherlock Holmes film with Cavill and Claflin is actually quite appealing, no? And I guess I’ll read the second book before watching the second movie, so maybe time and curiosity will get the best of me…just not an time soon.
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