The charming and zippy detective caper Enola Holmes, directed by Harry Bradbeer, displays its most potent ingredient right off the bat: Millie Bobby Brown, in the title role, looking straight through the screen and saying, “Where to begin?” She continues to break the fourth wall throughout the film, enlisting the audience’s sympathy in her adventures. The technique starts off as a vehicle for quick exposition but evolves into a suggestion of something deeper, hinting at revealing her subconscious mind where the legendary Holmes intellect is hard at work deciphering mysteries. The film’s running joke is that teenage Enola is even sharper than her famous older brother, Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who pops in from time to time only to be outwitted by his little sister.

Never mentioned in the original Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, the Enola character was adapted by Bradbeer and writer Jack Thorne from the first book in a series of the same title by Nancy Springer. Millie Bobby Brown gives a remarkable performance in her first leading role since appearing as the mysterious Eleven in the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” and she carries the film with confidence, poise and humor. Her growing maturity as an actor promises many juicy roles to come, with a range spanning action, drama and goofball comedy.

The mystery at the center of Enola Holmes involves the disappearance of Enola’s mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) on the girl’s 16th birthday. Having trained her daughter in jiu-jitsu, fencing, chemistry and archery, Eudoria embodies the revolutionary spirit of the women’s suffrage movement that was agitating for reform in late-19th century Britain. That historical and cultural backdrop provides the frame for Enola’s quest to uncover her mother’s tracks. Standing in her way are her own older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), who haven’t seen Enola since she was a toddler, and who repeatedly underestimate her cleverness and drive. They bicker over which of them should take her on as a ward, seeing her as little more than a burdensome object. Enola, ablaze with devotion to her mother and eager to put her skills and smarts into action, leaves her brothers in the dust.

In fact, Sherlock’s recurring befuddlement strikes a bit of a false note. Henry Cavill looks the part, buttoned up in tweed with a nest of unruly hair, but his portrayal is far from the sharp eye and razor wit brought to the role of the misanthropic detective by Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr. in recent adaptations. Instead, Cavill’s Holmes seems like a decent fellow, sympathetic to his sister’s plight and fascinated by her lightning intellect as she keeps a step ahead of him at every turn. The perhaps unintended consequence of depicting Sherlock as a nice guy is the suggestion that his genius needed to be diminished in order for Enola to shine.

But shine she does, as she uses her powers of deduction to set out on a journey to London in search of her mother. More mysteries accrue as Enola’s bravery and wits get her deeper into trouble with a murder plot involving a dashing young aristocrat, the Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). A potential romantic entanglement thankfully takes a back seat to Enola’s sleuthing, which leads her to the doors of Parliament and the center of the social movement that so motivated her clever and secretive mother.

Before bringing Enola to the screen, Harry Bradbeer directed various episodes of the acclaimed TV series “Fleabag,” which similarly featured a protagonist sharing knowing glances and clever asides directly with the audience, and that conceit plays well here too. Brown is disarming in her vulnerability and wit, although the family-friendly PG-13 rating ensures that nothing gets too dark or racy even as the thoughts she shares touch on her famous family’s secrets. It could be that her access to an unseen audience in her mind is the key to the empathy that sets her apart from her brilliant but prickly older brother. If so, she might prove to be an even greater detective. It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to detect the traces of aspiring franchise in Enola Holmes, and her continuing adventures might prove to be as durably engaging as Sherlock’s.

It doesn't take a magnifying glass to detect the traces of aspiring franchise in Enola Holmes, and her continuing adventures might prove to be as durably engaging as Sherlock's.
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Sherlock's Sister
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