I’m following last week’s look at two films about real-life heroine Ruth Bader Ginsburg by checking out two new adventures involving fictional heroines caught up in plenty of derring-do. The new Netflix movie Enola Holmes follows the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister as she tries to solve her mother’s disappearance and determine why mysterious people are trying to kill a teen boy.
Meanwhile, the new Apple+ series Tehran follows a female undercover Mossad agent as she runs for her life after a secret mission in Iran.
Enola Holmes takes place in Victorian England, while Tehran is set in the present-day Middle East; they also take very different approaches to storytelling. Enola stars the Emmy-nominated Millie Bobby Brown, Netflix’s biggest star discovery from its hit sci-fi series Stranger Things, as the 16-year-old heroine in 1900 England, whom her older brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), haven’t seen since she was a toddler. Raised by her feisty feminist mom (Helena Bonham Carter, who’s having a ball) to be an ace at jiujitsu, read extensively and play indoor tennis at their estate, Enola believes she can do anything at a time when women were just starting to fight for equal rights.
Her mother disappears one day, leaving behind a box of gifts that are actually clues, including a set of letter blocks that Enola must use to decode secret messages. Enola’s brothers come back to get a handle on things, with Mycroft wanting to ship her off to a finishing school for girls to force femininity upon her, so she escapes and heads off on a rousing adventure to find her mother.
Along the way, she meets a boy named Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), who’s on the run himself from a mysterious man who wants him dead. Enola rescues him and tries to find out why there’s a price on his head. As she dodges one dangerous situation after another, often by using her impressive hand-to-hand combat skills, it gradually becomes clear that Tewkesbury’s fate is intertwined with her mother’s.
Enola Holmes is a rousing good time, strongly rooted in Brown’s spirited performance, which involves her breaking the fourth wall and talking to the viewer throughout–a conceit that works even though motion-picture cameras were quite primitive at the time.
Director Henry Bradbeer oversees a sumptuously mounted production with eye-catching costumes and sets, and the score by Daniel Pemberton adds a powerful backdrop throughout. Jack Thorne’s script, based on the young adult novel The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Story by Nancy Springer, weaves in plenty of touches of girl power without being heavy-handed. My only minor criticism is that the resolution doesn’t conform to the classic whodunit style one might expect from the Sherlock Holmes universe, instead resolving a fun adventure with personal growth at the heart of it all.
Tehran follows the story of Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), a computer hacker-agent for the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, who finds herself thrust into the hostile territory of Tehran for her first mission. Her goal is to obtain the secret codes needed to shut down the anti-aircraft radar of a nuclear reactor so that Israeli planes can bomb it; the first episode sets up the twisty eight-part season with meticulous details.
Tamar’s cover is blown near the end of the first episode, setting up an overarching story in which she has to get out of Iran before the Revolutionary Guard can catch her–with another Mossad agent as her only ally. A new episode starts streaming each Friday, with the fourth hitting just this weekend, but an early review by someone who’s seen it all promises that the ending is a “complete surprise.”
It would be great if it indeed pays off that way, but the pilot is too much of a slow burn to be anywhere near as engaging as Enola Holmes. Granted, it’s going for a different vibe, but so little information is provided about Tamar and the others in the show that it’s hard to root for her with any enthusiasm, and the plot’s reliance on her switching places with another woman is pretty confusing in practice.
Tehran might be solid thriller fare if it shows more humanity and a little less in the way of twists-for-twists’ sake. For now, I recommend it mainly for those who are fans of the spy genre, but it needs to pick up the pace a little and be less murky going forward.