Permutations on Sherlock Holmes have a long and spotty cinematic history, which makes “Enola Holmes” — a vehicle for “Stranger Things'” Millie Bobby Brown, who doubled as its producer — such a pleasant surprise. Adapted from the young-adult books, it’s a lovely production that reinforces the sense Brown, if there were any doubts, is a major star in the making.
The “in the making” part is key, since at just 16 — the same age as her character — it’s especially impressive to see the way Brown holds the screen, regularly addressing the camera as the energetic guide to Enola’s big adventure.
The teenage sister of Sherlock (Henry Cavill, excellent, if in inordinately good shape for detective work) awakens on her 16th birthday to discover that their mother (Helena Bonham Carter), who has raised her quite independently for the 1880s, has disappeared. That triggers a mad search to find her, much to the chagrin of her other buttoned-up brother, Mycroft (Sam Claflin), who is eager to toss her into a finishing school for girls.
“You want me controlled,” Enola snaps defiantly.
Gifted with her brother’s agile mind, Enola (“alone” spelled backwards, she informs us) announces, “The game is afoot,” but she’s soon distracted by new game, in the form of a teenage aristocrat (Louis Partridge) that she encounters, who appears to be the target of a murder plot. The two mysteries continue along parallel tracks, which is appropriate, since Enola first meets the young lord on a train.
Directed by Harry Bradbeer (a veteran of “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve”), from a screenplay by Jack Thorne (who less successfully adapted the recent version of “The Secret Garden”), the film’s lavish period trappings set it apart from most of the teen-starring movies that one encounters, a cut above what usually pops up on the Disney Channel or now Disney+. Heck, Enola even reads newspapers to help crack codes, which if nothing else establishes this as a period piece.
It’s a nice addition for Netflix, which has made weekly movies a regular part of its lineup, an astute move during the pandemic, even if its menu — such as the recent “The Devil All the Time” — has yielded mixed creative results.
For fans of the Holmes character, his countless screen incarnations have also included “Young Sherlock Holmes” and Gene Wilder’s comedic “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.” But “Enola” carves out its own path, as the plucky heroine’s efforts to outsmart her siblings offering an amusing garnish to the more serious detective work.
Brown already enjoys a bustling filmography, but as a producer, she likely has an incentive to do more of these films, and there are additional books by Nancy Springer waiting for the call. Based on the charms of “Enola Holmes,” Netflix should be eager to keep this game afoot as long as its stars are willing to keep playing.
“Enola Holmes” premieres Sept. 23 on Netflix.