And then we rewind to go back a bit, where Enola is trying to set up her own detective agency in London. “I was to join the pantheon of great Victorian detectives. I was to be his equal, worthy of the Holmes name, or so I thought.
It does not go well. Potential customers say she is too young or mistake her for the receptionist. Some just get to the point, “Maybe your brother is free?” And then a young girl named Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) enters the office looking for his sister Sarah. There are advantages to Enola’s youth and gender. She can go undercover with Bessie as a new employee at the match factory where Sarah worked before she disappeared. Prospective clients may underestimate Enola, but so do the people she investigates.
The direction and editing match the vivacious personality of the heroine, and the mystery has several delightful twists. Enola is determined to be independent and finds it difficult to admit that she needs help. But it turns out that her case may be connected to the one her brother is working on. Her eccentric mother (Helena Bonham Carter) shows up to provide some help, some explosives and some revision of her earlier advice to Enola to rely only on herself. She says Enola has become “strong, individual, but maybe a little lonely. With others you could be magnificent. Find your allies, work with them, and you will become more who you are.” And when she needs an emergency ballroom lesson, the handsome Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) is willing to oblige.
Brown, also a producer on the film, is ideal for Enola. Her asides to the audience are delightful, especially when she unsuccessfully tries to assure us with a slight blush that she happens to be in the park Tewkesbury passes through on her way to the House of Lords. Animated interludes show us some of what she’s thinking, and some flashbacks to her mother’s lessons tell us more about what has—and hasn’t—prepared her for these challenges. She shows us Enola’s curiosity, frustration, determination and vulnerability. We see her make mistakes and we see her learn to get help from others and sometimes she makes mistakes by getting help from the wrong people.