Christina Savopoulos | October 9, 2020
Based on the book series The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer, Jack Thorne’s film adaptation brings Springer’s work to a new generation of sleuths. Directed by Harry Bradbeer (director of award-winning Fleabag), the story follows the eponymous heroine Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), an intelligent and confident 16-year-old who is quite conscious of the backwards spelling of her name — ‘alone’. When her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) goes missing, leaving her by herself, Enola takes matters into her own hands, going against her famous older brothers’ wishes. But her mother’s disappearance won’t be the only mystery she’ll have to solve.
Henry Cavill adopts the role of the attentive Sherlock Holmes, and Sam Claflin as the despicable, controlling Mycroft Holmes. Both deliver great performances considering their limited storylines — as it’s now time for a new member of the Holmes family to take centre stage.
Following a fairly loose narrative with frequent flashbacks to Enola’s childhood and relationship with her mother — including montages depicting her education in science, jiu jitsu and literature — it can be difficult to know exactly where the film is heading. Enola Holmes delivers a satisfying yet predictable storyline and ending. You won’t be very surprised at the film’s revelations, but you’ll definitely enjoy the adventure leading up to it.
The film is based more around Enola’s feminist and personal self-discovery than her journey into the world and career of detection. In fact, the central focus of the film is the building of Enola into a young, feminist role model of both her stylised Victorian era and the Netflix cinematic universe. Enola wishes to break away from the strict 19th century lifestyle that awaits her, reinventing the idea of femininity in this time period. Rather than submitting to the masculine idea of what makes a proper lady (i.e. marriage and withholding opinions…shocker), Enola subverts this and creates her own path, proving that she is just as valid a hero and detective as her brothers. At the same time, this portrayal seeks to alter the typical, one-dimensional depictions of femininity that tend to restrict women in other historical dramas. Where Victorian women may usually be presented in film and television as timid and without ambition, Enola Holmes crafts Enola as determined, outspoken and incredibly independent. Other historical films would benefit if they portrayed female characters as poignantly liberated as Enola. Often breaking the fourth wall, Enola speaks directly to the camera, providing quick, witty remarks concerning the situations she finds herself in. This character is the perfect feminist role model.
Costume designer Consolata Boyle contributes to the overall playful aesthetic of the film, delivering carefully selected period outfits, from Enola’s endless supply of Victorian gowns to her boyish disguises. Enola’s frequent changes between these gendered costumes reminds the audience of her young age and, despite being beyond her years in terms of maturity and knowledge of detection, she is still a playful person experiencing a rather abnormal life. It also allows her to explore different social areas of England that might have been restricted to her had she been dressed in an upper-class feminine dress. Enola also gains the opportunity to be treated differently by others depending on her disguise.
Enola Holmes overall makes for a delightful watch with its quick dialogue and beautiful cinematography of the English countryside. The film also features an exceptional cast of supporting characters. And for any Harry Potter fans, there’ll be a few familiar faces lurking throughout the film! (Hint: Aunt Petunia as the firm Miss Harrison; Madame Maxine as an elderly Dowager and, of course, Bellatrix as Enola’s mother).
It’s difficult to believe that Millie Bobby Brown was only about 15 years old during filming. Her maturity and talent are inspiring. Brown’s capacity to embody and animate a new feminist icon is admirable and surpasses her years. Furthermore, Brown is also credited as a producer for the film and is fast progressing in Hollywood, making a name for herself outside her iconic Stranger Things role.
Although nothing beats the cinema experience, I am grateful to watch something new and recent — one of the benefits of Netflix. It might not be on par with some of the great mysteries such as Murder on the Orient Express, but Enola Holmes provides an insightful glance into women’s roles during this period through an observant and outspoken protagonist. You may start watching for the mystery, but you’ll stay for the feminist history lesson.
Enola Holmes is now streaming on Netflix.