‘Enola Holmes’: Fun sleuthing gamble let down by its script

‘Enola Holmes’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
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Updated 27 September 2020

‘Enola Holmes’: Fun sleuthing gamble let down by its script

CHENNAI: US author Nancy Springer created Sherlock Holmes’ little sister, Enola Holmes, more than 100 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote “A Study in Scarlet” that gave birth to one of the world’s most enduring detectives. For his millions of fans, Sherlock has been the last word in criminal investigation, and anyone even remotely resembling the violin-playing sleuth is merely a caricature. Enola Holmes tries to break out of this image in Springer’s first of the six adventures, “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” now a Netflix film. 

“Enola Holmes,” directed by Harry Bradbeer (“Fleabag,” “Killing Eve”) with a script by Jack Thorne (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), though ambitious, is impeded by a convoluted plot with a climax that is a tad too tame. There are other irritants too — Enola, played by Millie Bobby Brown, seems more keen on her physical abilities than in her powers of deduction, and for Sherlock lovers this will come as a huge disappointment. Enola is probably closer to Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, rather than Benedict Cumberbatch’s rendition of the detective. 

“Enola Holmes” is directed by Harry Bradbeer (“Fleabag,” “Killing Eve”) with a script by Jack Thorne. Supplied

It is possible that Springer was targeting young adults and Enola’s investigation into the disappearance of the marquess fits this bill all right. On her 16th birthday, her whole world crashes when she realizes that her mother, Lady Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), has vanished leaving behind clues to where she stashed a wad of money for her daughter. With her father dead and her older brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), away in London to find their fortunes, Enola grows up in 18442 England with just her mother for company. Lady Eudoria schools her in literature, science and the martial arts. At 16, Enola master of jujutsu and considers herself to be intelligent enough to beat even Sherlock at his own game. She thwarts Mycroft’s efforts to put her in a finishing school and escapes to London hoping to find her mother. 

The film is based on the first book in the series of the same name by Nancy Springer. Supplied

On the train, she meets the young Viscount Tewksbury, marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge), who is also running away from being murdered. They pair off, but the parallel threads of the story – the case of the missing mother and Tewksbury’s impending danger – are not woven seamlessly together. In the end, “Enola Holmes” comes off as a rather mixed-up effort.

The writing packs in too many issues. For example, Enola and her mother are driving feminism in England and there are several other add-ons to the core plot like this — they do little to drive the story forward and seem to have been thrown in for good measure.

The settings are indeed gorgeous and there is a feel of Jane Austin’s novels in “Enola Holmes.” Brown is lovely, her curiosity and bubbling energy giving a glow to her persona. But the writing lets her down, as it does the film.

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

Updated 27 November 2020

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

DUBAI: The colors change depending on which direction you’re facing or what time of day it is. The shifting sands ripple in undulating, multi-colored waves — rusty oranges, wisps of silver, shimmering gold. The colors depend on the minerals in the sand, but also on the effects of the ever-present sun, beating down on one of the world’s harshest and most desolate landscapes.

This is the Rub’ Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter. At 650,000 square kilometers, this giant desert is larger than France, and straddles four countries — Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE. It is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world.

Of course, given that the majority of the Gulf region consists almost exclusively of desert, that may not sound especially impressive. But comparing this vast swathe of towering dunes to any other desert is to do it a significant disservice. Not least because, on the UAE side, it is also home to the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab hotel.

Anantara Pool Villa Terrace. Supplied

Nestled in a desert valley with soaring dunes to the left and right and salt flats in front, the hotel announces itself with stone towers, grand trellises and water features, resembling an old Arabian fortress town.

Qasr Al Sarab is basically the only structure for miles around — a lone ship adrift in a sea of sand. So the hotel must sustain itself, given it’s two hours from Abu Dhabi and about 45 minutes from any other notable township. The hotel recycles all its water, has its own sewage plant, and even grows its own fruits and vegetables in a desert greenhouse.

The hotel, which reopened on August 15 having been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been busy preparing for the return of guests. Especially those from the local market. There’s a newly refurbished gym (complete with Technogym equipment), new kid’s club and a revamped pool area. The on-site restaurants offer traditional options — via a Bedouin-style outdoor, tented area —as well as more modern ones in the rooftop steakhouse, Suhail.

The on-site restaurants offer traditional options as well as more modern ones in the rooftop steakhouse, Suhail. Supplied

The hotel library is stocked with historic books and information on the landscape just beyond the windows. It’s the perfect place to read up on the Empty Quarter’s ecosystem: the fearsome and the tame alike. Although it seems devoid of life at first glance the desert is actually home to plenty. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes, sand foxes, gazelles, birds, scorpions and camel spiders. The Abu Dhabi government has been working on an oryx rehabilitation program, releasing Arabian oryx into the protected area near the hotel.

And the hotel itself hosts numerous animals. A small population of Arabian horses and camels take guests on treks through the dunes at sunrise, while six Saluki dogs, traditionally trained for hunting by nomadic Arabian tribes, perform shows with the hotel’s falcons. But if you’re really looking for something to get your heart racing —and stomach churning — head out for some dune bashing. It is, of course, a favored pastime wherever you are in the UAE, but the size of the dunes in the Empty Quarter means the experience is even more hair-raising than usual. Any rollercoaster will forevermore pale in comparison to an hour in a Nissan Patrol with skilled driver Waris, one of the most experienced dune bashers in the area. He was on location with the crew of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and was also charged with taking the new Bentley Bentayga for a spin to test its capabilities.

The size of the dunes in the Empty Quarter means the experience of dune bashing is even more hair-raising than usual. Shutterstock

After a lie down to recover, evening entertainment comes in the form of pitching up under the stars. The vastness of the night sky seems more obvious here, the stars clearer than anywhere else in the country — a particular shock to city-dwellers so unaccustomed to the wonders of a clear sky. Here, the peace and tranquility seem almost otherworldly; just as explorer Wilfred Thesiger described the area 70 years ago in “Arabian Sands,” when he wrote: “It was very still with the silence which we have driven from our world.”

It may have gained five-star lodgings since then, but this magnificent desert remains fundamentally unchanged.