Roughly 25 months since the Millie Bobby Brown-led Enola Holmes (2020) hit Netflix, a sequel drops on the streamer taking the same cast, as well as some new additions, on a brand-new mystery tour. Much as the 2020 outing is adapted from author Nancy Springer’s inaugural novel The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery, Enola Holmes 2 takes its general shape from the second book in the series, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, but with a real-world twist. This twist not only amplifies the stakes of the adventure for the characters, it anchors them for the audience, offering a prevalence that echoes beyond the fictional world.
After making waves with the conclusion of her first case, Enola Holmes decides to open her own detective agency. With her intellect, her youth, and her familial reputation, gaining clients should be a cinch, except all people see is her gender, her lack of experience, and her more established older brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill). Just as Enola is about to give up for good, in walks Bessie Chapman (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss), seeking Enola to help her find her missing sister Sarah (Hannah Dodd). As Enola follows the thread of a simple missing sister case, she finds herself against a knot which, it seems, even Sherlock is troubled to untie.
Once more directed by Harry Bradbeer with a script again adapted by Jack Thorne, Enola Holmes 2 is not just more of the same, but a natural progression from what happened before. There’s plenty of the fourth wall breaking which infused the YA adaptation with a bit of cheek, but it feels far more conspiratorial this time around. Enola’s not just talking to us as she sorts out the facts of her circumstance, she’s also talking to the audience about her concerns, her fears, and all the things she denies about herself. This allows for some lovely verbal pratfalls that Brown once more handles masterfully, enabling Brown to demonstrate that while Enola is a capable detective, she’s far more human than her emotionally-stunted siblings. More so than the first, which often felt a little swashbuckling as it moved from one action set piece to another, 2 offers more character moments so that we can dig a little deeper into who the established characters are. This is particularly important for Cavill’s Sherlock who has a larger role this time around as Enola’s guardian and one of the few adults that respects her abilities. But more than being *Sherlock*, Cavill is given moments of levity that are so rare for the characters he plays (save for his performance as Napoleon Solo in 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), but also of concern and caring only hinted at in 1. Brown can certainly handle being the lead of the film and 2 demonstrates that Cavill may physically, overshadow Brown but, from a performance-perspective, supports Enola exactly as an elder sibling would hope to do. So even though there are aspects of 2 which require a bit more from the Baker Street detective than before, there’s no doubt whose film this is.
One of the big differences between the first and second Enola films is their fealty to the source material. While every adaptation struggles for a strict one-to-one recreation (they are different media, after all), the story of 2 borrows from the very real history of the Match Stick Girls’ Strike of 1888 for the major components of their story. Rather than just pick and choose elements or to connect the missing person to a match stick factory and call it a day, the theme of 2 is directly connected to the moment in history. In the first film, Enola is striking out on her own to find her mother, meeting Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) and stumbling in her first case in the process. Here, Enola learns a different lesson about herself that, rather unlike her siblings Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Clafin), it’s not only ok to work with a team but she wouldn’t be the first woman to do so. Additionally, the narrative explores how strength isn’t just derived from what one person can do, but from when there are many gathered for a common goal. Much in the way the first film found its balance between message and entertainment, 2 never gives the impression of beating its audience with its message, opting instead to guide Enola and her home-viewing conspirators to the point. Much like the concurrent mysteries which run through 2, the script doesn’t dumb things down just because it’s a YA story and, for that, it deserves credit for treating the audience with as much respect as its central character demands.
Where the film falters a bit is in the production design. It’s not that Michael Carlin’s (In Bruges) work is unseemly, it’s that the sets themselves appear exactly as that: sets. With the exception of a rather thrilling chase sequence, almost all of 2 is visibly on a set, thereby reducing the magic of the storytelling. There’s one location visited more than once wherein it’s almost blatantly obvious that the distance is a matte painting versus a physical property. Props for the use of a matte, but it reduces the perceived reality concocted by the storytelling. Even the cinematography from Giles Nuttgens (Hell or High Water) appears almost BBC-like at times, just a little flat with a visible haze. This could be the result of shooting a film that won’t go to theaters, thereby creating the necessity for the film to look as uniform as possible when viewed at home *or* it’s a by-product of a cinematic style to denote the Industrial Age of London. Either way, it takes away from the various gorgeous costumes from Consolata Boyle (Enola Holmes) that make one wish they could afford such glamorous outfits. What remains as rousing, however, is composer Daniel Pemberton’s (The Bad Guys; Motherless Brooklyn) score, infusing the film with a vibrant pulse that matches the oscillating energy of the performances and the stakes. So while some aspect of the presentation almost wave away the illusion of the adventure, the performances, the costumes, and the score provide anchorage enough to keep one locked right in for the duration.
In the end, Enola Holmes 2 is a solid follow-up that doesn’t opt to do more of the same when it can expand the world. That alone helps the film feel like a breath of fresh air when franchise films would rather sit on their laurels than try something different. Or, worse, there’s a shift toward throwing everything at the film as a means of working in all the references possible in order to build a cinematic universe. Yes, 2 introduces new characters and, yes, it utilizes old ones, but none are there for any other reason than to push the characters and the narrative forward. The writing remains sharp, the performances on point, and the commentary (as before) targeted, all while providing a smart and often-rollicking good time.
Available on Netflix November 4th, 2022.
Head to Nancy Springer’s official website for more information on the author.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
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