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Enola Holmes

Don’t mess with Enola Holmes. (I’m looking at you, Mycroft.) That’s one clear message delivered in this two-hour Netflix romp, starring Millie Bobby Brown, whom fans of Stranger Things will know as Eleven. But Brown leaves Eleven far behind in this mystery/period piece set in 1884, playing the whip-smart, feminist younger sister of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill, Superman) and their stuffy older brother, Mycroft (an unrecognizable Sam Claflin). 

When Enola’s mother, Eudoria (a fabulously eccentric Helena Bonham Carter), goes missing on Enola’s 16th birthday, her much older brothers are called in to advise and sort out what’s to be done with the stubborn, unladylike, and probably outlandish young lady. She can’t just rattle around the estate by herself, after all. But where is their kooky mother? Mycroft immediately wants to send Enola to finishing school, the worst possible place for a girl like Enola, who is beyond “finishing,” while Sherlock is a bit more sympathetic and admiring of his little sister’s fierce intelligence. Naturally, she busts out of finishing school and follows the trail of clues left by her mother. Along the way, she encounters a floppy-haired young viscount, also on the run, and a host of foes along the way. Brown is effervescent and steely at the same time; cool trick, there, Millie Bobby! She is a girl to admire and watch as she tackles obstacles and shakes off those who would diminish her as they try to finish her. Based on Nancy Springer’s young adult series “Enola Holmes Mysteries” with five books, Enola delightfully refreshes the Sherlock Holmes franchise and gives viewers ample reasons to hope for sequels. (Netflix)


What’s not to love? I thought, anticipating this Netflix movie adaptation of a book I relish, Rebecca by Dame Daphne DuMaurier. I was even more on board when I saw who would be inhabiting the roles of Mrs. DeWinter (annoyingly, she is never given a first name in the book, something that never fails to irk me): Lily James, Downton Abbey’s Rose, and Maxim DeWinter (Armie Hammer). Even Mrs. Danvers, the icy housekeeper, was played by an ace actor, Kristin Scott Thomas. Going in, I was full of hopes, hopes that were to be flattened by the end of this oddly boring remix of a thrilling book.

The famous and portentous words, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" open the film as in the book (one of the best first lines, ever). A young woman is chafing under the control of her boss, a social-climbing American on a Grand Tour of Europe. Luckily—or is it?—along comes Maxim DeWinter, a wealthy and handsome British estate owner and recent widower on holiday in Monte Carlo. After a quick romance, the young woman is swept off her feet and finds herself in a massive and imposing mansion in England. (Interestingly, there are scenes in Enola Holmes that were filmed at the same estate used for Rebecca!) Here she meets Mrs. Danvers, whose eyes glitter with malice even as she welcomes the new Mrs. DeWinter to Manderley. She is, we learn, obsessed with the first Mrs. DeWinter, Rebecca. The new wife becomes paranoid about the late wife—how could she, a bumpkin with no breeding, possibly live up to Rebecca’s legendary beauty, vivacity, and elegance? (The letter “R” is monogrammed all over the mansion, from hairbrushes to linen handkerchiefs: creepy.) Her husband is no help; back at Manderley, he retreats into a morose, distant figure simmering with secrets. 

On its own, as a period drama, Rebecca is reasonably entertaining. But it fails to ratchet up the delicious goosebumps of the book or the 1940 classic directed by Alfred Hitchcock. My husband thought it was fine, but when you have read Rebecca, you know that fine isn’t nearly good enough. (Netflix)

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Prior to listening to David Copperfield on audiobook this fall, the only work of Charles’ Dickens I had read was A Christmas Carol. I had heard other writers claim Copperfield as their favorite Dickens, and in fact, it was famously his favorite among his novels. Though I had not finished the audiobook yet (at 36.5 hours it is, as one reviewer puts it, a “doorstop” of a book), young Copperfield and the wondrously quirky and engaging cast of characters were fresh on my mind as I watched the latest adaptation, The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring a radiant Dev Patel as Copperfield. 

Because I was so familiar with the plot and characters, I could see more clearly what filmmaker Armando Ianucci was doing here: In one fell swoop he managed to revitalize the material (race blind casting helps), cut it way down and plump it up in spots. The result is a joyful, hugely entertaining version of a daunting classic now 170 years old. 

This movie rollicks along at high speed, from Copperfield’s birth to a sweet young mother to his bitter exile when she marries a terrible man; from his boyhood friendship with the happy Peggotty clan to his installment at the age of 12 as a factory worker in a shoe black factory. The novel is biographical; Dickens himself worked 10 hours a day tieing off bottles of shoe black to help support his family when his father was sent to debtors prison. 

The novel and this compressed adaptation are also inspiring examples of a character who faces numerous—and I do mean numerous—obstacles and rises to each one with the sturdy and warm help of a fantastic cast of allies. The villains are superb, too. Remember the name Uriah Heep? The famous sycophantic creep should really get his own horror movie one day. Tilda Swinton stands out, too, as the zany but loving great-aunt Betsey Trotwood. Whether you’ve read the book or not, The Personal History of David Copperfield is a gust of fresh air and a great, winsome treat. (Amazon Prime)

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