When the eponymous Enola Holmes, in her introduction within the first few minutes of the movie, says, “Mother said we were free to do anything at Ferndell… and be anyone,” you immediately realize that this is more than just a detective movie. Released by Netflix on September 23, “Enola Holmes” masks as a mystery movie but deep inside is a feminist reiteration that challenges men’s traditional positions and beliefs.
The analytical, penetrative, and eccentric private detective Sherlock Holmes and his aristocratic elder brother Mycroft are brought to the screen again. But this time, they are not the center of attraction. This is the time for young Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) to show her prowess and establish herself as an independent woman. Tutored by her mother Eudoria Holmes (Helena Bonham Carter) at home on literature, history, science, and martial arts, Enola possess skills similar, or maybe even surpassing, Sherlock. The 16-year-old is a free-spirited, independent, and outspoken girl, exactly like her mother raised her, but considered ‘unladylike’ and even criminal in Victorian England, the era this story is based on.
The credit for creating the powerful character of Enola does not go to Sherlock Holmes’ original creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film is rather based on the first book published in the series “The Enola Holmes Mysteries” (2006) written by Nancy Springer, and adapted for the screen by Jack Thorne, and directed by Harry Bradbeer.
Enola’s quiet and comfortable life at Ferndell Hall changes abruptly one day when her mother disappears without a word. Her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin)—who have long since abandoned their family—return home to help find her, but are not as serious about the task as Enola would like. Instead Mycroft, who is legally Enola’s guardian after their mother’s disappearance, wants to admit Enola into a finishing school where she will be taught to be ladylike and get ready for marriage to the best possible suitor. Obviously, Enola has no intention of being trained or married, so she escapes from her home to London to find her mother, on the way getting entangled with the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who will also be a part of this adventure.
As said earlier, Enola Holmes is not your quintessential mystery movie. Most mystery movies/detective flicks we’ve watched—including the various productions of Sherlock Holmes himself—focus more on the plot, the crime, the situation, and on finding the culprit. But Enola Holmes, even with its twist and turns, gives more space to the personal and political aspects of being a woman in the aristocratic English society.
The story is of a time when women were not allowed to vote and any woman asking to be treated equally would be charged for sedition. Enola is detested by her eldest brother Mycroft, for possessing the same spirit and qualities of Sherlock. Fearing her free spirit and liberality would not be accepted by his high society, Mycroft wants to “break up and build her up” in a strict boarding school.
The movie features stellar performance from 16-year-old Millie Bobby Brown. She embodies Enola’s characters with energy and sparkle. Brown personifies the young, intelligent, insightful, defiant, rebellious, and yet oppressed Enola as if she was born into that era and lived through Enola’s experiences. The rest of the cast are only supporting crew for Brown as she makes the entire film her own.
But despite ticking so many right boxes, the movie has a few shortcomings. First, in trying to depict the socio-political context to establish its setting, the film falters on storytelling. The mysteries are jumbled up and predictable, and do not complement the extraordinary skills of Enola. Also the 2hrs 3mins length is a little too long.
Who should watch it?
Enola Holmes is similar to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, but retold with a modern touch. The film has a feminist bent and a diversity of characters. While most reiterations of Sherlock Holmes onscreen productions were dominantly white, Enola Holmes gives some space to colored faces as well. So this is a must watch in this time as the society embraces greater diversity and inclusiveness. We’re sure the audience will enjoy Enola Holmes as much as any other detective movie they have watched of late.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Actors: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin