Directed By: Harry Bradbeer
Written By: Jack Thorne
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown – Enola Holmes; Henry Cavill – Sherlock Holmes; Sam Claflin – Mycroft Holmes; Helena Bonham Carter – Eudoria Holmes; Louis Partridge – Viscount Tewkesbury; Burn Gorman – Linthorn ; Adeel Akhtar – Det. Lestrade; Susie Wokoma – Edith
Genre: Action; Comedy; Mystery
Enola Holmes is a 2020 Netflix release based on the author Nancy Springer’s Sherlock pastiche series – The Enola Holmes Mysteries. In 1929, Virginia Woolf in her seminal text A Room of One’s Own wrote about ‘what if Shakespeare had a sister who was equally brilliant?’ Keeping in mind that Shakespeare lived in the 1600s, one can imagine how Woolf’s thought experiment went but Enola Holmes is set in the 1800s when the Suffragist movement had begun to take off, so the narrative takes on an interesting trajectory.
Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) is a plucky, intelligent girl whose 16th birthday is marred by the disappearance of her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) and the appearance of her two older brothers Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill). They haven’t seen her in years and they respond to her in markedly different ways. Mycroft is aghast at her wild behaviour and as her legal guardian decides to send her to finishing school (a rather ominous sounding space). Sherlock recognises a kindred spirit but isn’t in the habit of getting involved in people’s lives.
Enola decides to take matters into her own hands and goes in search of her mother. But her journey is halted by her meeting the runaway lord, Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) whose escape from his family’s demands leads to a dangerous chase for his life. Enola wants to go her own way but now she has two mysteries to solve all while eluding her brothers, a sinister villain and society’s limitations.
The story overturns socially limiting roles such as widowhood – a disguise that Enola uses, besides cross-dressing as a young boy – all to access a certain freedom of movement denied to women. The film is political in its questions on what is it to be British. Laudably on one end, the protection of the natural resources of the land and problematically on the other, the maintenance of status quo.
The film, with its focus on the exploits of a fictional sister of Sherlock Holmes, manages to hold its own without getting sucked in the cult of Sherlock; by Enola breaking the fourth wall to convey her opinions as opposed to being spoken for. None of the male characters get reduced to cardboard cut-outs – an oft-repeated criticism against stories with titular female characters. Even Viscount Tewkesbury, who may need Enola’s skills to survive death threats, is able to offer his prodigious knowledge of the natural world so that they can survive. The film then offers us a heroine who is learning to construct a world that does not have to be an either/or choice because as a thinking woman, she has the necessary skills to fight the villains of the story – the established order of society.