Tip of the hat to Netflix, for indulging the first star the streaming service has actually created with this bon bon of a showcase.
Millie Bobby Brown is the age of the character she’s playing, “Enola Holmes,” aka Sherlock Holmes’ plucky much-younger sister — 16. And the poise she demonstrates in every scene, the confidence in every British-accented line, lets her hold her own with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Henry Cavill, Fiona Shaw and Frances de la Tour.
She may be playing a self-conscious screen heroine — she turns to the camera as narrator, time and again, and does everything but wink at it. But we see the “Stranger Things” star invent in scenes, add bits of “business” to her performance.
She’s not just a producer of her own star vehicle. She’s figured out how to make a character larger than life, the little dickens.
The tomboyish Enola has to climb up through a trap door. Brown opens it with her head, because of course “Enola” would.
The movie? It’s a dizzy delight, a trifle long, some obvious sentimental bits — violent, here and there. But fun, start to finish.
Enola’s grown up all but estranged from her much older brothers, famous sleuth Sherlock and prissy bureaucrat Mycroft (Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin, both on-the-mark). Their feminist widowed mother (Helena Bonham Carter, still a spitfire) raised Enola to be smart, tough, intrepid and independent.
That comes in handy, because one day, mysterious Mum ups and disappears. Enola, “that’s ‘alone,’ spelled backwards,” wants to find her. Damned shame Mycroft insists she go to a finishing school (Fiona Shaw is the cruel headmistress). Sherlock? He’ll look into their missing mother. In. Good. Time.
Enola, who “knows nothing of the world,” must go out into Britain on the cusp of the 20th century and track down her mother and figure out what she’s up to.
She stumbles into the mop-topped young Viscount Tewskebury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge), on the run from his family, his House of Lords future, and — as it turns out, a murderer (Burn Gorman, a Great Brit Villain).
“The game’s afoot!”
Just enough improbable-to-highly-improbable escapes, fights-to-the-death and derring do ensues, a tale of anagram clues and jiu jitsu, political “reform” and women’s suffrage and a whole lot of our heroine turning to the camera with “Bear with me” asides and the occasional “a-HA” look.
“The corsette,” she lectures, changing disguises, “a symbol of repression.” But one does what one “needs must.” Quite.
Director Harry Bradbeer (“Fleabag,” “The Hour”) shows off the period detail in this adaptation of Nancy Springer’s novel — late Victorian England, complete with three-wheeled “motorcars.” And he generally keeps the film and his heroine on their feet. The energy only flags in the third act, that business of tidying up every loose end.
Carter — seen in “inspire/teach the heroine” flashbacks — sparkles. Gorman always gives fair value and the chiseled Cavill suggests a much more reserved and internal Sherlock (can’t have him outshining Enola) than we’re used to seeing. Inscrutable.
“Sometimes, you must dangle your feet in the water to attract the sharks.”
But Brown is the marvel-in-motion who powers this machine. She lets this showcase make the case for a post-child-actress career, showing off pluck, comfort with stunts and something her chilly TV series rarely allows her — charm.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence.
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, Sam Claflin, Burn Gorman, Louis Partridge, Fiona Shaw, Adeel Akhtar and Frances de la Tour
Credits: Directed by Harry Bradbeer, script by Jack Thorne, based on the Nancy Springer novel. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:03