Whether it’s purely coincidental, or because of established relationships, actors who have appeared in one Netflix original production often appear in others. That certainly is the case with Enola Holmes, a spirited period adventure that brings together the likes of Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown, The Witcher’s Henry Cavill, and The Queen’s Helena Bonham Carter.
Based on the first book in a young adult series by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes invents a third Holmes sibling – to join Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic Sherlock (Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) – the laatlammetjie Enola (Bobby Brown).
With a 20-year age gap between herself and her brothers, Enola has received an unconventional upbringing by her mother Eudoria (Bonham Carter) on the remote family estate. She reads everything in the manor library, learns scientific theory, plays chess and even practices jiu jitsu. On the morning of her 16th birthday, Enola wakes to find her mother gone, leaving only a cryptic cipher puzzle. Our heroine sets out into the world for the first time to solve the mystery around the disappearance, but finds herself entwined in the search for a missing teenage lord (Louis Partridge), and has to contend with her brothers’ attempts to lock her away in a finishing school until she has been moulded into a respectable Victorian lady.
That really is the problem with Enola Holmes. There is A LOT going on, and even though the film moves along as swiftly as the boisterous, fourth wall-breaking Enola, the result is a movie that still feels too long at over 2 hours. Enola Holmes would have benefited from losing, or demoting, at least one of its equally weighted plot branches, and shaving off twenty minutes.
This isn’t to say there aren’t pleasures to be had. Primarily, there’s the top-notch British cast across the board. Enola is a fantastic role for Millie Bobby Brown, proving she is capable of playing more than intense outsiders like Eleven. Her charismatic and involving performance as the resourceful Enola once again makes a strong case for her fan casting as a young Leia Organa.
Meanwhile, Claflin is spot-on as the uptight, politically ambitious Mycroft, while Cavill presents a fresh take on Sherlock Holmes, portraying the sleuth as more socially integrated than typically depicted. Personally I would have preferred Cavill’s Sherlock to show a few more quirks: a big deal is made in the film about his emotional detachment and disinterest, although there is little evidence of it. However, there is something about treating Sherlock Holmes as a celebrated Marty Stu who still remains several steps behind his brilliant baby sister.
That brings us to the question of feminism in Enola Holmes. Some people got very upset by this publicity stunt for the film, which they saw as trampling on men’s legacies to uplift women. Feminist themes are obviously present in Enola Holmes, but they’re not delivered in a heavy-handed manner. In fact there’s a kind of subversive feminism present where Enola consciously uses repressive Victorian women’s dress and behaviour expectations to achieve her goals. Just as often, though, Enola defies social norms, and she finds her male equivalent in Partridge’s Viscount Twekesbury, a young man whose greatest passion is botany.
It’s worth mentioning that even the most literally militant feminists in Enola Holmes are far from furious misandrists. One of the most memorable moments in the film is a quiet exchange between Sherlock and a woman character who points out that the detective’s greatest privilege is that he can be indifferent to political change.
Again, though, Enola Holmes isn’t trying to hammer home a message. In fact, at times it feels like it’s trying a little too hard to be quirky and breezy instead, sidestepping certain historical realities, like how easily a genteel young woman could move around 19th Century London without a chaperone. The film does still work, though, as an inspiring and engaging tale for young girls watching.
And now that the plot foundation has been laid, Enola’s future on-screen adventures should be able to proceed in a manner that is both more focused and fun.
Last Updated: September 28, 2020