Enola Holmes (12) **
Schemers (15) **
Monsoon (12A) ***
Miss Juneteenth (15) ***
A jaunty feminist retelling of Sherlock Holmes told from the perspective of his 16-year-old sister, Enola Holmes serves up the movie industry’s standard cheerleading message that girls and women can do anything they set their minds to – except perhaps writing or directing a well-funded Netflix movie about Sherlock Holmes’s teenage sister. Instead that job falls to Fleabag’s veteran director Harry Bradbeer and prolific screenwriter Jack Thorne, currently the British film industry’s go-to feminist mansplainer, having previously penned the thigh-slapping female empowerment movie The Aeronauts and the frustratingly on-the-nose script for this year’s Marie Curie biopic Radioactive. Bradbeer’s hiring at least makes more sense given the film’s desperation to accrue Fleabag comparisons – look, there’s another one – something that extends to having its eponymous heroine (played by Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown) directly address the camera roughly every seven minutes, a trick that becomes wearying after roughly seven minutes.
Based on a series of Young Adult novels by American author Nancy Springer, the film is essentially an origins story with the plot introducing us to Enola – who’s been raised in isolation in the countryside, far away from Baker Street – as she puts her own home-schooled powers of deductive reasoning to use to track down her recently vanished mother (Helena Bonham Carter). Her older brothers Mycroft and Sherlock (respectively played by Sam Claflin and Henry Cavill) are more wing-clipping hindrance than help here, determined as they are to maintain the social order in more ways than one by sending her off to finishing school just as the world seems on the brink of political change with a voting reform bill making its way through parliament. Disappointingly, as Enola teams up with a doe-eyed aristocrat (Louis Partridge) whose life she repeatedly has to save, the film underestimates the savviness of what should be its natural audience by having her do more running around and martial arts than actual sleuthing.
A bit of a vanity project for writer/director Dave McLean, Schemers finds the Scottish music promoter and manager of 90s alt-rockers Placebo mythologising his wheeler-dealer Dundonian youth with the same kind of making-it-up-as-he-goes-along bravado that, according to this film at least, enabled the fledgling music promoter to stage a now-legendary Iron Maiden gig at Dundee’s Caird Hall in 1980. Sadly, rather than building the whole film around that event, it’s the rushed, anti-climactic endpoint of a very dated, lad-centric coming-of-age narrative in which we have to endure young Davie (enthusiastically played by first-timer Conor Berry) getting into an escalating series of scrapes involving local gangsters and unscrupulous club owners, all the while trying to impress the student nurse (Tara Lee) he’s been drooling over since sustaining a broken leg that has curbed a football career of unverifiable promise.
Kicking proceedings off with Hunter S Thompson’s quote about the savagery and venality of the music industry, McLean’s own writing is a bit more bloke-down-the-pub bluster as he articulates his onscreen cipher’s every thought with sub-Trainspotting voice-over and gussies up the film’s budget shortfalls with freeze-frames and rapid-fire edits. What he singularly fails to do is make an aesthetic virtue out of the DIY energy fuelling many of the bands of the period, most of which he ended up booking. Instead he seems content for Schemers to be a jocular trip down memory lane, which just makes it look like an amateurish swing for the mainstream rather than the edgy cult film it could have been.
In Monsoon, the new film from Lilting director Hong Khaou, Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) stars as a British-raised Vietnamese émigré who returns to his native country to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased mother. Drawing loosely on the Cambodian-born Khaou’s own memories of being a displaced child in Vietnam (one whose family fled to Britain as part of the exodus of the so-called “boat people” in the aftermath of the Vietnam War), the film functions as both a gorgeously rendered travelogue and as a subtle exploration of the complex emotions that can arise when re-connecting with your roots. Though Khaou is better at teasing out his themes visually than explicating them through the film’s sometimes stilted dialogue and performances, as Golding’s character travels from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and back again Khaou builds a quietly compelling portrait of a youngish man making peace with a past and a country he was forced to abandon.
The title of Miss Juneteenth is a reference to a beauty contest tied to celebrations that take place on 19 June every year in America to commemorate the day in 1865 on which slaves in Texas were belatedly set free, almost three years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Having become a semi-national holiday, Juneteenth is thus a day loaded with conflicting emotions, the jubilation of what it represents tempered by anger at the systemic stalling of basic human rights for Black Americans that continues to this day. Making her feature debut, writer-director Channing Godfrey Peoples distils some of that fraught history into this otherwise deceptively simple mother-daughter drama about a former beauty queen called Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) as she tries to secure her teenage daughter’s future by helping her replicate her own victory at the titular event. Though the film mines conflict from all the expected places, it also deepens our understanding of its protagonist in moving and generous ways. ■
Enola Holmes is available on Netflix, Schemers is in cinemas nationwide, Monsoon and Miss Juneteenth are on selected release in cinemas and available to stream on demand.
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