Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister Enola Holmes wasn’t part of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories — she’s the creation of Nancy Springer, who wrote seven books about the teenage detective. Netflix loosely adapted the first of them in 2020, with Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown starring as Enola and The Witcher’s Henry Cavill playing Sherlock Holmes. It was a smash hit, according to Netflix, with positive reviews and a quickly established fandom. So it was no surprise that Netflix greenlit a sequel. There are more than 250 screen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories, so it seems fitting that Enola should get a handful of her own — especially when they’re this good.
The second Enola Holmes movie is the rare sequel that improves on the first. The first had its strengths, most notably Brown’s magnificent acting, but director Harry Bradbeer and screenwriter Jack Thorne seem more certain of the theme and the characters this time around. Without having to spend time on setup, reconnecting Enola with her family, they can put the main mystery at center stage, while her relationship with her famous brother bolsters the plot instead of distracting from it.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight setup spoilers for Enola Holmes 2, plus spoilers for the first movie.]
The sequel kicks off with Enola starting a detective agency of her own. But because all her potential clients expect they’re going to be consulting with the other Holmes sibling, she struggles to get customers. Then a young factory girl shows up at her door and implores Enola to find her missing sister. Enola winds up exploring the working-class world of Victorian London, which she’s wholly unfamiliar with. Meanwhile, Sherlock is stuck on a case of his own, which has to do with vast sums of money disappearing and reappearing in bank accounts all over London. As Enola snoops further, she learns that her case ties into some of the more upper-crust residents of London — and finds her path crossing her brother’s again.
Netflix’s first Enola Holmes movie ran into legal trouble with Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, which claimed it used a version of Sherlock not yet under public domain. (Apparently… any version of Sherlock with emotions?) The lawsuit was dismissed, fortunately for this franchise, which depicts Sherlock not as the usual arrogant, cold-hearted detective, but as an awkward man with warmth in his heart for his little sister.
As with the first movie, Brown’s and Cavill’s performances are electric. Enola talks directly to the audience, breaking the fourth wall with confident charm. Cavill’s Sherlock gives the famous detective another dimension: In addition to being a brilliant, pompous genius, he’s also a brother trying to reconnect with his little sister. Sherlock and Enola have a delightful relationship, one where they’re trying to connect with each other and express, in their limited ways, that they care for each other — while also trying to solve their cases, and jealously keep their progress and processes secret from each other.
A big problem Bradbeer and Thorne had in the first Enola Holmes was getting the audience to understand the Holmes family dynamics, and balancing that with the rest of the plot. The main mystery centered around Enola’s missing mother (Helena Bonham Carter), which could’ve set the ground for a tight, family-focused story, if the filmmakers hadn’t woven in another missing-persons plot that ended up interrogating England’s Victorian-era politics. The first time, the movie never committed to fully exploring that thread, so the end reveal about Enola’s mother was jarring, and the ramifications were left unexplored. She only appears briefly in the sequel, so Enola Holmes 2 leaves that thread unpulled. Thankfully, when it comes to the other plot lines, this time it doesn’t just dance around the inequalities of Victorian society — it finally takes the plunge.
This time around, the two separate mysteries come together much quicker, making for a more satisfying reveal at the end. And the road there is great fun. Enola sneaks into places that contrast sharply in terms of class and stakes. She again runs into the charming Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) from the first movie, and the spark between them is still palpable. He teaches her to dance; she teaches him to fight. Brown imbues Enola with such earnestness and pluck that no matter what she does, where she goes, or who she talks to, she ends up being an utter delight. Whether she’s punching cops, fumbling her etiquette at a ball, or helping her drunk brother get home, she’s magnetic.
There’s one big, glaring gap in Enola Holmes 2. A lot of this sequel focuses on Enola realizing her privilege as an upper-class woman and using it to help people who need it. While the script features a lot of talk about women’s rights and class inequality, race continues to be a complete blind spot in this world. It would be one thing if these were surface-level adventure movies that didn’t delve into social justice issues, but the fact that they focus so much on other injustices and ignore this one makes the omission particularly egregious. And because of that, a character reveal at the end that should be a clever, fun twist ends up feeling a little weird.
Enola Holmes 2 is still an improvement over the first movie, though, because Enola doesn’t just learn about the world outside her isolated home life — she actually helps others change it. The Enola Holmes movies aren’t just delightful mysteries focusing on a plucky teenage detective and a spectacular cast of supporting characters; they also hold a magnifying glass over the world of Victorian London, one often glamorized in other adaptations. The hand holding that glass is shaky, though, and still obscures part of the view. With such a marked improvement, maybe the next one will get it perfect. And Enola Holmes does deserve a third movie — and perhaps a fourth and a fifth. She’s a wonderful heroine who not only works well with her famous brother, but also on her own. The world deserves more Enola Holmes.
Enola Holmes 2 is out on Netflix now.