by Hunter Johnson
Over the last century, nearly a hundred actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes in film and television. Whether it be the classic Basil Rathbone films from the 40s or Vasily Livanov’s well-received series from the 80s, Sherlock has long been an international staple of mystery storytelling.
In recent years, the Sherlock mythos has entered a new phase that I like to call the “superhero phase.” He’s been played by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Magneto (Ian McKellen), and, to add to that ever-growing list, he’s now being played by Superman himself.
In “Enola Holmes,” Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) plays the famed detective, giving him a smooth, suave presence that contrasts dramatically with the eccentric sociopathy of Downey’s and Cumberbatch’s portrayals. As the title suggests, however, the spotlight is not on the famed detective but on his younger sister, Enola.
Based on the popular young adult novels by Nancy Springer, director Harry Bradbeer’s adaptation follows Sherlock’s sister as she heads to London in search of her missing mother, beginning her own career as a private detective along the way.
Playing the titular character is Millie Bobby Brown, continuing her rise to fame following her acclaimed performance as Eleven in “Stranger Things.” Brown is fantastic, bringing a down-to-earth charm to a character surrounded by pretentious, uptight snobs. Her playful, fourth-wall-breaking narration gives the film a fun-spirited tone while also making sure not to overstay its welcome.
The primary problem with “Enola Holmes” is how it handles its other characters. Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother, is a snotty, annoying caricature of a 19th-century privileged, misogynistic white man, lacking any charm the character had in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Sam Claflin certainly gives a good performance in the role, but he’s no fun to watch.
As for Sherlock, Cavill brings a surprising emotional vulnerability to the famously unperturbed character. Perhaps this less traditional portrayal fits well in this specific story, but that doesn’t change the fact that whoever Cavill is playing in this film is not the Sherlock Holmes of Doyle’s novels.
Unlike Cavill’s portrayal, Doyle’s Sherlock is not confounded by simple mysteries. He is not caught off guard by someone calling out his arrogance. He is not smooth, suave, or socially adept. Rather, he is a relentless genius, unstable narcissist, and borderline sociopath with no social filter.
Cavill makes him a relatable character, but what made the original character so enjoyable is how eccentric he was. Cavill’s Sherlock, by contrast, is boring and bland. Meanwhile, Mycroft is suitably eccentric, but his overt snobbishness makes him not endearing in the slightest.
The highlights of “Enola Holmes” are Millie Bobby Brown’s performance and Giles Nuttgens’ whimsical cinematography. If Harry Bradbeer plans to return for the sequel, he will hopefully tone down the outrageously chauvinistic qualities of Sherlock and Mycroft and allow them to simply exist as the wonderfully fascinating characters that they are.
Hunter Johnson is a senior Theatre Performance Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He spends his time gobbling up all the Star Wars that Disney pumps out, followed by daydreaming about his future dog Jojo, all while giving endless attention to his beautiful fiance.