Having settled into its characters and found its audience with the first movie, Enola Holmes 2 hits the ground running (literally and figuratively) and, in many ways, outshines its already wonderful predecessor. It’s a rare find in a sequel, and an even rarer find in a movie that runs a hair over two hours, but this one has found the right formula of adventure, mystery, humor, feminism, just a dash of romance, which is all kept whirring forward with witty script, excellent acting, crackling chemistry, and a period setting that’s just this side of campy.
We begin with Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) on the run from a couple of cops. Just as she’s (possibly) about to be caught, she pauses, looks at the camera, and says, “Perhaps I should explain.” Then the movie skips back and Enola reintroduces herself saying, “You may remember me.” As if we could forget our favorite young detective! My lovely girl, we’ve been awaiting your return with SUCH anticipation!! After solving her first case, Enola eagerly sets up her own shop but runs into some problems. Well, one problem, really. Go ahead and guess. That’s correct! Sexism! You win! Enola loses. Everyone is entirely skeptical that a mere girl could solve any case, and they’re pretty sure she’s mistaken and brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) solved that other case anyway. Sigh. Meanwhile, Sherlock is off solving other cases and their mother (Helena Bonham Carter) is trying not to get caught while continuing to agitate (explode things) for women’s rights. Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) of the foppish hair is now in the House of Lords fighting for reform and writing Enola unanswered letters. (She may be good at solving mysteries, getting out scrapes, and fighting, but she’s still more than a little lost when it comes to balancing a twitterpated heart and her independence.)
Just when Enola has given up on her detective agency and is packing up her shingle, a young matchstick girl named Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) shows up looking for help finding sister Sarah Chapman (Hannah Dodd). Bessie takes Enola back to their threadbare but homey room, where Mae (Abbie Hern), another young matchstick factory worker, tries to bully Enola off the case. There’s nothing quite like a fight to get Enola intrigued, so she, of course, takes the case. With Bessie’s help she infiltrates the matchstick factory where they work to see if she can figure out why Sarah disappeared shortly after arguing with her boss. Soon enough Enola will be up to her eyeballs in workers’ rights, infectious diseases, class politics, swanky soirees, corrupt officials, murder most foul, and much more! Plus, it might just so happen that her case overlaps with the one case that Sherlock can’t seem to crack. She runs into him one night when he’s stinking drunk and ferries him home to his rooms while he spouts nonsense, which he tells her she should probably write down, but none of which she should—It’s Victorian mansplaining, my friends!—and they both take an interest in the other’s case.
It should be said that I still don’t exactly buy Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes, but, um, well, I mean, his hair and his suits have a way of making me less mad about it? What can I say? I’m a pushover in some ways. Also, Sherlock Holmes is not the star of this movie, so it’s somewhat less important if he’s the perfect Sherlock. Maybe it’s better that he’s slightly off, so we don’t get distracted by the Great Sherlock Holmes? Okay, that may be a bridge too far. However, Millie Bobby Brown, obviously, continues to be an absolute delight. As do the other supporting characters. Although there still needs to be more of Edith (Susan Wokoma) in my opinion.
Now, if you’re hoping for an enigma wrapped in a question wrapped in a mystery, this movie may not provide what you’re looking for. Not all the clues are glaringly obvious from the start, but you may feel that you’re half a step ahead of a Holmes or two at times. However, I would argue that the delight of watching these movies is not so much in the subterfuge and sleight of hand as the thrill of the chase and the characters. The villains this time around are quite delicious. David Thewlis as Grails, the police Superintendent, is perfectly vile. Plus, he does an excellent job of elucidating the fear that men like him have of women gaining knowledge and questioning authority. When he threatens to squeeze information out of Bessie, Enola protests that she’s just a little girl. “Oh, but that’s how it starts, Enola Holmes!” he sneers. “With little girls like her, and you, and Sarah Chapman, asking questions, doubting those in charge, not seeing their protection for what it is, trying to tear it down.” Absolutely right, you cretin! Burn it to the ground, girls!
The movie also lobbies hard for the collective over the individual, which is no small feat when you’re talking about the Holmes family. Enola’s mother tells her that perhaps she taught them to be too independent, adding that she should “find your allies, work with them, and you will become more of who you are. If you speak with one voice, you’ll make more noise than you ever could have imagined.” (Perhaps you already know where all this is pointing in terms of the plot, but just in case you do not, I will not spoil it for you.) Where the movie, sadly, punts a bit is on race. It’s backed itself into a bit of a corner by making society appear post-racial and largely colorblind, so where someone should be able to cite race as part of their reason for oppression and anger, it’s left glaringly unsaid. I suppose you could also argue this the other way—that it’s nice to have the fantasy that race doesn’t exist.
The romance between Enola and Lord Foppish Hair is kept perfectly back-burnered at a low-simmer. She calls him a nincompoop, but clearly kvells in his presence. He teaches her about flowers and agitates in the government for women’s rights. She’s out in the streets fighting agents of the government and teaching him about breaking laws. There is an incredibly sweet scene where he teaches her to dance in a palatially-sized bathroom (the way tongues would wag if anyone found out!). And another time she teaches him to fight in a carriage while they are quite unchaperoned. For all the Victorian Era scandal, their romance is entirely sweet and pitched just right for our young detective.
In this era of streaming, Enola Holmes could have easily been made into a series, and I’d like to thank whoever decided it should be movies instead. Boundaries can be a very good thing. Long live Enola Holmes! And Henry Cavill’s hair!