Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective of 221B Baker Street, has a sister. Her name is Enola Holmes, and despite being much younger than him, she shows powers of deductive reasoning that foretell her advent into the world of mystery and intrigue.
In the new and trending Netflix adaptation, Enola Holmes is first and foremost a tale of adventure—young Enola wakes up on the morning of her 16th birthday to find her mother missing. Her brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, come to the estate to take care of things, but to the uptight, well-paid government official that is Mycroft (Sam Caiflin), Enola appears to be an ungoverned, assertive "wild" child. Sherlock (Henry Cavill) is unhelpful, but not unbothered. And Enola, in the wake of this rather perturbing situation, finds herself completely alone, confused and seemingly destined for the well-bred high-society tedium of finishing school. But a puzzling coded message left by her mother sends Enola off to London. There, she meets a boy and a mystery, both vying for her attention.
There are six Enola Holmes stories written by Nancy Springer and the Netflix film starring Millie Bobby Brown is based on the first book of the series: The Case of the Missing Marquess (2006).
The adaptation shows a decent enough spin-off of the case of the Marquess which Enola tries to solve, but that of Enola herself is vastly different from Springer's book.
The book contains a different Enola entirely. One who doesn't run around the grounds of Ferndell alongside her mother in cocooned joy, but instead hides in the nook of a tree branch and walks among the wild rose bushes alone. Since birth she has been weighed down by the burden of being born too late, to a mother too old for childbirth. Her brothers are contemptible, Sherlock the worse among the two. Both sons disapprove of their mother and reduce her to the one terrible weakness of her sex—irrationality. Mycroft, being the sole proprietor of the estate, feels it within his rights to govern their mother's life much in the same way that he tries to govern Enola's in the film.
But for better or worse, these days are to end and Enola is soon to find herself in the putrid dark streets of London surrounded by diseased people crawling on the streets for want of sustenance. Stranger to the city, she finds her way around using her astute observation.
These details which added dimension and texture to Enola's experiences are simplified in the film. Whereas 14-year-old Enola and 12-year-old Tewksbury are just two kids trying to escape danger together in the book, Enola Holmes spikes their friendship with lingering delicate looks and a "cutesy" teen romance. No longer does a wounded, bloody Enola escape a captor boat purely by acting in the moment. No longer does the eccentric, red-haired Madame Leilia offer one of the best reveals of the story—instead she has been left out of the adaptation completely.
Springer's book is solemn compared to the colourful and upbeat Enola Holmes we find on the screen. But it gives Enola a nuanced character without the ideological upbringing of an enigmatic mother and the burden of living in the shadow of a famous detective brother. Springer's Enola feels more like a real person who learns to carve her own path in the world despite odds.
The film presents a light-hearted story that might make you cringe (at the fourth wall breaks especially), but will, at the same time, allow you to escape reality for about 2 hours. It's definitely a fun watch but not something you would recommend to your friends with anything more than a shrug and an implied nod.
Fahima Islam Lira is a contributor to DS Books.