In motion pictures, there are two storytelling devices that I’m not wild about.
The first of these is the use of voiceover narration. It underscores the point-of-view character in a scene and gives you the same sort of feeling you get when reading a novel or short story told in the first person. Outside of film noir, it’s not something I often enjoy.
Exceptions? Yeah, sure, there are exceptions. I didn’t mind the voiceover narration in Stand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption. Both of these movies have the framing device of someone relating a story. The narration makes sense.
The second storytelling device that I find problematic is commonly known as breaking the fourth wall. This happens when an actor or character turns to address the camera, and the audience, directly, outside the action of the storyline. For me, it fractures the fictive dream, that willing suspension of disbelief that allows you to believe, however shallowly, that what I’m watching is really happening.
When used for comedic effect, in the right kind of movie, it may not seem as obtrusive. I’m thinking movies such as Wayne’s World or Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. But, in something meant to be taken a bit more seriously, I don’t find this technique at all effective. It’s a reminder that everything you’re seeing is a lie.
Enola Holmes employs both voiceover narration and fourth-wall breaking quite frequently. I would have preferred that the fourth wall had remained intact. These instances were not necessary and adversely affected the rhythm of the story, in my opinion. The voiceover narration wasn’t terrible, however, and seemed of a piece with the tone and Victorian setting of the story. It has a feel similar to a story written by Dr. John Watson.
Enola Holmes, if you don’t know already, is the younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. As it turns out, Enola (which backwards spells “alone”) has the eye for detail and keen deductive reasoning of her more famous sleuthing brother. Only, you know, she’s a girl.
The movie is based on a YA book series written by American author Nancy Springer. Since there are six volumes in this series, it appears to have been a successful one. I am not familiar with it. However, after watching this movie, I wouldn’t dismiss, out of hand, ever reading the books. I’m willing to bet that they’re a fun read.
I believe it would be smart for Netflix to be thinking in terms of series as well. Especially if they’re able to lock down the actors who appeared in this movie for sequels.
It is a stellar cast. Henry Cavill, who some of us know as a certain Kryptonian named Kal-El, turns in a wonderful performance, if perhaps a bit too hunky, as Sherlock Holmes. Not taking away any of the praise due Mr. Cavill, I haven’t honestly disliked the performances of any of the actors who’ve portrayed Sherlock during the 21st Century. Benedict Cumberbatch is my favorite, by far, but Robert Downey Jr., Sir Ian McKellen and, now, Henry Cavill, were pretty good, too. The character will always be bigger than any actor who plays him.
Sam Claflin is snobbishly perfect as Mycroft Holmes. I know him also as Oswald Mosley, the fascist leader in Peaky Blinders. I understand he was also in some obscure project known as The Hunger Games film series as well.
Helena Bonham Carter is eccentrically perfect as Eudoria Holmes, the matriarch of the Holmes family, whose sudden disappearance kicks off the plot of this movie. She appears mostly in flashback during the course of the movie. While Ms. Bonham Carter has never stopped working, it seems, she only recently began appearing on my radar again after her performance in The Crown (also Netflix). I don’t think I was ever a real fan during her Tim Burton phase. But, I consider myself a fan now. Lucky her, I know.
I saved the last member of our lead-actor power quartet for last, just for effect. Millie Bobby Brown shines as Enola Holmes. In all ways, she is the star of this movie and more than holds her own with her more experienced co-stars. She seems to have the same kind of inner light that Hayley Mills also had as a young woman. It’s more than the English accent. Even today, Miss Brown is still a teenager, but she is blossoming into a beautiful young woman.
In addition, it seems that Brown, who had her first breakthrough role on Stranger Things (also Netflix: sensing a pattern), was instrumental in even getting the film made. She had read the Springer novels with her sister, and she had wanted to play the role of Enola even before she was old enough to play her. It also seems that the fourth-wall breaking was all her idea. We’ll chalk that mistake up to inexperience and youth; we must be allowed to make mistakes when we’re young.
Actor Louis Partridge is Tewkesbury, a romantic interest for Enola. Burn Gorman plays another villainous role. Gorman, after Turn and The Expanse, has become one of my favorite screen villains. He’s probably landing acting roles now, as we speak, that would have otherwise gone to Willem Dafoe. He gives good face.
The central mystery and various capers surrounding it are exciting, and period-correct, as far as I can tell. The tone of the movie as a whole is much lighter than its feminist central theme. The movie feels like a well-done YA novel to me. Since the Springer series won the James Tiptree, Jr. award and the Edgar, plus a whole host of other accolades, I’m certain that the author is due some of the credit, as is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for creating the milieu of the story (as well as most of the characters who aren’t Enola).
I liked this movie a lot, and hope it does get picked up as a series. The camera loves Millie Bobby Brown, who breathes exuberant life into the character of Sherlock’s little sister. The ending of this movie, which I won’t ruin for you, may be a little more Scooby Doo than I would have preferred, but it’s still a satisfying conclusion.
Firewater’s Our-Life-Is-Our-Own Report Card: B+
It’s a perfectly fine grade, I think. An easy A if the meta fourth-wall breaking was used just a little less. Like, not at all.
My name is Firewater, which backwards spells “retawerif.” Think about it.