Why Did I Watch It? Movie club selection.
Meet Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister, Enola. She shares many of his famous traits – sharp intelligence, keen eye, high opinion of self – but because she is a woman, she is not allowed to exercise her talents. 19th century society can only see her as a future wife and mother, and Mycroft Holmes, the stuffy older brother, agrees. He sends her to a conservative boarding school, but she soon escapes and sets out to find their iconoclastic mother.
Based on a popular series of books, this film makes a decent stab at coming up with a new spin on the Sherlock Holmes universe. It’s most radical move is to sideline him for most of the runtime. As played by Henry Cavill, he is a likeable but aloof figure, curious about his sister, but indecisive about how much to help her. The focus instead is on Enola, played with winning charm by Milly Bobby Brown. It is an enthusiastic performance that buoys the movie, and provides an appealingly up to date character. Enola shows she can mix it with the guys, and even best them; outwitting them constantly, kicking their ass via ju jitsu when required.
Alongside MBB, Louis Partridge is good as the love interest, the Marquis of Tewksbury. Graduating from one of the world’s great treehouses, the Marquis is set to assume his father’s seat in the house of Lords, and vote on an important reform bill. Sharing an interest in this is MBB’s missing mother; an enigmatic figure later revealed to be an agitator, not squeamish about using terrorist tactics to further the cause of woman’s rights. This is a sympathetic but complex character, well played by Helena Bonham Carter in a small role.
The plotting is less convincing than the performances. I was not entirely sure what HBC and her shadowy organisation were up to. There are additional books and, assuming this one is successful, you would think they would make more films; perhaps the wider story will be fleshed out in subsequent entries. Likewise, I did not really care for the hyperactive style of direction. Harry Bradbear (admittedly: a GREAT name) layers on a bunch of flashy filmic techniques, that fail to disguise the film’s inherent lack of style. There is an anonymity to the way this is made which maybe reflects the house aesthetic of Netflix cinema; busy, but empty. And I have never been a fan of character’s talking direct to camera; MBB can put this over up to a point, but it adds nothing to the story.
Still, quibbles aside, a mostly enjoyable two hour mystery adventure. I am up for more, if more is forthcoming.