Lace up your petticoats, strap on your bonnets, and brush up on your jujitsu, because Enola Holmes is back on the case. Two years after the plucky younger sister of the great Sherlock Holmes (and the less great Mycroft Holmes) burst onto Netflix mid-pandemic, she returns in Enola Holmes 2 to solve another missing person case in 1800s London. The cast and crew of the original reprise their roles to dish up a second Victorian mystery that continues the airy charms of the first, which featured twisting alley chase sequences, cheeky asides to the camera, and girls outsmarting boys. It’s a romp geared especially towards tweens, but one that certainly holds enough depth to delight their parents as well.
Enola Holmes 2 starts where the original left off. Enola (Stranger Things’ Emmy-nominated Millie Bobby Brown), having discovered her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) and saved the life of her swoon-y crush Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge, who played Sid Vicious on FX on Hulu’s Pistol), has opened up her very own detective agency. Unfortunately, because a) she is a less desirable Holmes detective than Sherlock (Henry Cavill, looking as muscly as ever), and b) she is a literal child, she is not drumming up much business. With bankruptcy threatening (the business practicalities here are murky) and boredom setting in, Enola gladly accepts a case involving a girl who has disappeared from her work at a local match factory.
Enola begins her quest by going undercover at a pre-child labor laws, typhus-infested matchstick assembly line, quickly realizing that the dark forces at work go far beyond just one missing teenager. As luck (or the clever screenwriters) would have it, the case soon intersects with a troublesome case Sherlock has had difficulty cracking, Tewkesbury’s political endeavors in the House of Lords, her mother’s undercover women’s rights work, and—*dun dun dun*—murder.
As Enola crisscrosses London searching for clues, she has a jolly ole time executing a jailbreak, disguising herself at a masquerade ball, and tumbling through multiple jujitsu brawls. Her sophomore film also introduces David Thewlis as an obviously villainous police superintendent (bringing to mind his performance in Fargo) for Enola to spar with as she races towards a climactic finale.
Like the first film, the sequel is directed by Harry Bradbeer (Fleabag) and written by Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials, Wonder), but unlike the original, whose plot was pulled from one of Nancy Springer’s young adult novels, the concept for this one is pulled from history. This both helps and hurts Enola Holmes 2 as the historical bits about Sarah Chapman and the Matchgirls’ Strike provide a dose of oomph to the film’s feminist message, but the original plot is a bit cumbersome in execution. While Enola’s witty fourth-wall-breaking narration proves as delightful as ever, the mystery’s many twists, turns, detours, and complications make the case itself a bit inscrutable. The destination is fun, and if you keep a loose grip on the facts, letting them wash over you in favor of focusing on the characters, you’ll have a good time. But this lacks the tightness of Sherlock, or even Elementary.
The true joy of both Enola Holmes films is in the actors’ performances and the humanity they bring to the characters. Millie Bobby Brown can be a bit stilted and silent in Stranger Things (she is, after all, a super-powered alien who can barely speak English) and sometimes appears to be cosplaying as a 45-year-old on her press tours. Here, however, she’s endlessly charming as a scruffy tomboy with a devilish twinkle in her eye, proving again why she’s a star. Henry Cavill (especially when playing drunk Sherlock) and Helena Bonham Carter seem to be having a blast in their scenes, and David Thewlis is chewing the scenery with wonderfully cartoonish camp.
Enola Holmes 2 is not a perfect film, but it is a good time. And especially in an era where the only options for families are silently weeping through a Pixar film or watching jabbering Minions, Enola is an unexpected delight.