Things happen to protagonists in movies.

It’s what drives the plot forward and makes for compelling entertainment.

But more often than not, it’s the male characters who have much or all of the agency in a film – an understood, yet not explicitly stated ability to impact or change the overall course of events.

This is especially true of films directed by men, even when the movie features one or more female protagonists.

A new Netflix film – directed by Harry Bradbeer from a screenplay by Jack Thorne – revels in its ability to push back against this narrative, thanks in large part to the film’s producer and star, Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown.

Based on the first of a series of novels by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes follows the teenage sister of world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes as she escapes from family members wanting to place her in a boarding school and sets off on a quest to find her mother, who disappeared suddenly on Enola’s sixteenth birthday.

While it’s certainly true of mystery films in general that events happen around Enola without her involvement, this is a movie where the drive comes from an impassioned lead, the root narrative is based on female empowerment in a restrictive 19th century England and the core dynamic stems from a mother-daughter relationship that haunts Enola in a positive way from start to finish.

Brown is electric and exceptionally charming as the title character, giving Enola a plucky, headstrong attitude that radiates energy off the screen and makes audiences glad to be along for the somewhat bumpy ride.

While some screenplays use narration as a crutch to prop up a lack of character development or to speed through plot elements, Enola Holmes breaks the fourth wall as Brown often speaks directly to viewers to both give insight into what’s happening on screen and to comment on the stupidity of those around her.

In these asides, Brown dazzles with a charm that evokes both a classic Jane Austen heroine and a snark distinct to portrayals of the character’s more famous brother, Sherlock.

The film never shies away from acknowledging the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle master detective, although Henry Cavill’s more restrained performance as Sherlock is more bemused older brother than wickedly smart sleuth. His is a more sympathetic turn than Benedict Cumberbatch’s eccentric post-modern version in the BBC series Sherlock and less bombastic than Robert Downey Jr. in the similarly styled Sherlock Holmes films from Guy Ritchie.

Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter leaves a long shadow over the entire film as Enola’s mother Eudoria, played mostly in flashbacks set over a number of years that help form the basis for Brown’s development of the Enola character as well as hide clues to solve the lingering mystery of the film.

Enola Holmes is far more colorful than any other iteration of the British super-sleuth canon originally developed by author Doyle as the England of the film is brighter and more cinematic, keeping with what one might expect of a Jane Austen adaptation.

But the punches rarely get pulled as Bradbeer and Brown bring a grit to the film’s action sequences. Fight sequences are structured to make Enola a wiry, agile fighter as opposed to the traditional brawler style of her brother Sherlock and there’s a kinetic rhythm to the action that makes everything feel orderly, yet like frantic chaos.

Enola Holmes moves at a brisk pace as viewers jet around the English countryside in search of the next clue to an ever-changing mystery and only in the last 20-30 minutes does the weight of the two-plus hour adventure feel slightly burdensome.

Bradbeer does a great job of creating an extensive world that could lead in a variety of different directions as a franchise starter for Brown and yet simultaneously building a somewhat tightly composed singular mystery that wraps up cleanly over the course of 120 minutes.

A sequel to Elona Holmes, practically a given with its high viewership and Netflix’s wide array of film development, would actually be a welcome addition to the catalog and something worth pursuing.

Enola Holmes definitely targets younger women as the primary audience, but there’s a genuine warmth and lighthearted nature to the entire film that will make this inevitable franchise starter something both men and women can enjoy.

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