And then we rewind to go back a bit, with Enola trying to establish her own detective agency in London. “I was going to join the pantheon of great Victorian detectives. I would be his equal, worthy of the Holmes name, or so I thought.”
It does not go well. Potential clients say she is too young or mistake her for the receptionist. Some just get to the point: “Might your brother be free?” And then a young girl named Bessie (Serrana Su-Ling Bliss) comes into the office looking for her sister Sarah. There are advantages to Enola’s youth and gender. She can go undercover with Bessie as a new employee in the match factory where Sarah worked before she disappeared. Potential clients may underestimate Enola, but so do the people she is investigating.
The direction and editing match the lively personality of the heroine, and the mystery has several delightful twists. Enola is determined to be independent and has a hard time admitting 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) turns up to provide some assistance, some explosives, and some revision of her earlier advice to Enola to rely only on herself. She says Enola has become “strong, individual, but perhaps 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 dance lesson, the handsome Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) is willing to oblige.
Brown, also a producer of the film, is ideal for Enola. Her asides to the audience are delightful, especially when she unsuccessfully tries to reassure us, with a slight blush, that she just happens to be in the park Tewkesbury walks through on his way to the House of Lords. Animated inserts show us some of what she is thinking and some flashbacks to her mother’s lessons tell us more of what has—and has not—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 make mistakes in getting help from the wrong people.