Don't let the title fool you: Why Netflix knows exactly what it's doing with 'Enola Holmes'

The sequel to Netflix’s hit feature film “Enola Holmes” may not have the cleverest title, but “Enola Holmes 2” is just as quick-witted and charming as the original. Both films are based on the “Sherlock Holmes”-based young adult books by Nancy Springer, and were produced by and star 18-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. A quirky take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mysteries, Enola is more than ready for another adorable, all-ages romp.

Springer’s books, and the films, invent a female character that Doyle never conceived of, and put her front and center.

“Sherlock Holmes” is one of the most adapted mysteries series in history. And the pace of those adaptations increased dramatically after 1999, when the copyright freeze went into effect. The majority of Doyle’s works were already in the public domain at the time, making them ripe for remixing even while other franchises remained unavailable. Most of the more popular adaptations, like the modernized “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch or pugilistic and attractive Sherlock played by Robert Downey Jr., center men and arguably are marketed toward them, too. But Springer’s books, and the films, invent a female character that Doyle never conceived of, and put her front and center.

Brown, who rose to fame on the teen-and-up megahit “Stranger Things,” actively pursued making Springers’ books for the big screen and made the deal with Legendary Entertainment to executive produce and star. It was a savvy move, as both films showcase her dual talent for drama and comedy while also skewering some of the sexism of the time period.

Legendary, which works with Warner Bros. Pictures, initially planned for these films to be big screen releases. However Warner sold the title to Netflix as the pandemic theater shutdowns wore on. The film could have been a big screen hit, but midbudget films aimed towards a teen audience seem to be increasingly dicey bets. Streaming, on the other hand, turned out to be a perfect medium for “Enola Holmes.”

The movies also feel particularly suited for Netflix, and not just because it’s exactly the kind of effortlessly watchable content tweens and teens can return to over and over. It also just so happened to be filled with stars associated with Netflix’s other major properties. The first film co-starred Henry Cavill (“The Witcher”), Sam Claflin (“Peaky Binders”) and Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”), as the rest of the Holmes family, and Louis Partridge (“Versailles”) as the swoon-worthy Lord Tewkesbury for Enola to rescue before teaming up with him.

Both Cavill and Bonham-Carter are back as Enola’s famous brother, Sherlock, and her mother, Eudora, who is as much a Springer invention as the titular character. Writer Jack Thorne and director Harry Bradbeer are also back, and thankfully have reduced the fourth-wall breaking of the first film, allowing Brown more room to show and not tell when it comes to her story. This time Enola isn’t running away from boarding school to solve crimes, but has opened her own detective agency, only to discover that most of the men (and women) who come to see her are really angling to secure the help of her brother. (Considering Cavill is the most absolute unit version of Sherlock ever committed to screen, you can’t blame them.)

Like the first film, the plot is a soft-focus feminist parable, based loosely in the history of the period.

Like the first film, the plot is a soft-focus feminist parable, based loosely in the history of the period. The original revealed both mother and daughter to be misunderstood and misjudged by the men around them, and gave them a refreshingly positive relationship, in contrast to the usual mother versus daughter stories so often found in teen programming. The person who finally brings a case to Enola is a girl her own age, Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss), whose BFF at the matchstick factory has disappeared. Enola soon learns female factory workers are mysteriously dying of typhus (a real incident that kicked off the 1888 Match Girls Strike in London).

But of course, Enola cannot go crime solving alone, and soon she and her brother discover they have been independently working on two parts of the same larger scandal, making them equals. And of course, things also intersect with boy-crush Tewkesbury and his progressive political endeavors in the House of Lords, and her mother’s undercover suffragette work.

But the real joy of these films, especially for the older crowd, is how much fun everyone is clearly having — especially Bonham-Carter, who seems to delight in working with Brown — and Cavill, whose Sherlock (and especially drunk Sherlock) is worth paying for a Netflix subscription. The movie also adds in a new face, David Thewlis (best known as Harry Potter’s werewolf teacher from “Prisoner of Azkaban”), whose antagonistic police superintendent makes a meal of every piece of scenery he can get his hands on.

Netflix has not had a perfect year, but its highlights have been amazing highs, from the returns of “Stranger Things” and “Bridgerton,” to new series like “The Sandman.” “Enola Holmes 2” is a reminder that not everything good on Netflix runs 10 episodes or more, and that it’s bustling film department isn’t all Oscar-fare and failed blockbusters all the time. These midbudget films may not make bank in theaters, but they are the lifeblood of the movie industry and working actors. And they’re great for audiences, too. Hopefully the success of the “Enola Holmes” franchise encourages them to make more.

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