Enola Holmes Review: Millie Bobby Brown’s Charming Feminist Heroine Is More YA Fleabag Than Sherlock Holmes. And We Love It!
When the Enola Holmes trailer dropped, I was skipping like an excited little girl. I love Millie Bobby Brown, who is both the star and one of the producers of the film. A teenager who has already exhibited her emotional range as Eleven on Stranger Things, she managed to get the audience hooked with her mischievous fourth-wall-breaking glances, her sassing of brothers Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin), and her easy chemistry with Lord Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Patridge) in the trailer itself. The trailer crackled with such wild energy, I had no qualms in believing MBB’s character was raised by none other than Helena Bonham Carter herself, who plays Eudoria Holmes. With Fleabag Season 1’s Emmy-award winning director Harry Bradbeer directing this one, I hoped that we were going to have another unanimously adored feminist heroine on our hands. And I was right.
Based on Nancy Springer’s book, The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery, which in itself is inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Enola Holmes is a charming take on a character we don’t have much clue about. And that’s the real intrigue, the real mystery at the heart of this film—Discovering who Enola is and whether she can step out of the huge shadow that her famous male siblings cast on the British society. Sure, there’s some sleuthing, some putting together of clues, and occasional, very strong whiffs of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes in some sequences. But for the most part, Enola Holmes is pretty much a Young Adult, period version of Fleabag, where our heroine also happens to be the smartest person in the room. You just didn’t know it yet because you were too busy fixating on her gender. What makes this even more fascinating is that the story is set in the backdrop of the the 1884 Reform Bill (Representation of the People Act 1884) as well as the secretly brewing women’s suffrage movement (voting rights for women) in the United Kingdom.
Enola Holmes: What is this game that is afoot?
Welcome to turn-of-the-century England of 1884, where the men are too full of themselves and the women are out of breath from being stuffed into corsets and poofy dresses. The British society is aflutter with the anecdotes of one super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes, which put the Scotland Yard’s best to shame, much to the chagrin of one Inspector Lestrade. The other Holmes brother, Mycroft, rides on his government high horse, believing that his mother is keeping their family home in the countryside, to make a lady out of his little sister, Enola.
Eudoria Holmes, on the other hand, has done none of that. She has trained her daughter to be anything but a lady. Enola is raised on ciphers, a library full of feminist literature, strenuous sports and swashbuckling combat tactics. Her mind is sharp, and she often speaks it, without standing to any ceremony or diplomacy. But on her 16th birthday, her beloved mother abandons her, leaving Enola with self-doubt, a birthday present riddled with clues to come find her, and the need to seek her brothers’ help. As an annoyed Mycroft and a mildly amused and fascinated Sherlock come across the unbridled Enola, they want her to go to a grooming school, learn to live in a proper society, and find a suitable match. But Enola has other plans, to be executed in several phases, to find her mother.
As the game is afoot, another mystery intervenes when she crosses paths with the Lord Viscount Tewksbury, Marquess of Basilwether. Someone’s trying to kill the young runaway Lord, and Enola must unravel the conspiracy, along with adjusting to a rather unwelcoming London, evading her intelligent brothers, and decoding her absconding mother’s politically motivated intentions. So what if she doesn’t have a formal education? Enola’s well-equipped by her mother’s lessons, quick on her feet, and perhaps a shade sharper than her famous brother. And being underestimated because of her gender is her biggest asset. Is she going to save the day? We’ll find out. Is she going to do it like her brother, while wearing a hat? No, because it makes her head itch!
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Enola Holmes is more Young Adult Fleabag than Sherlock Holmes. And that’s not bad at all!
Sherlock Holmes is easily the most adapted literary character, with so many iterations that we’ve officially lost count. And yet, we’re all still Sher-Locked, aren’t we? When Enola Holmes was announced, with Henry Cavill reprising the role of the famous sleuth, everyone was so keen to see what he’d bring to the table with his version. And that’s why, Enola Holmes subverting the entire focus on their heroine is the best thing. Funnily enough, Netflix (and the author for the book) actually got sued for this interpretation of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Doyle’s estate. Weird, since Enola Holmes is more like Fleabag than Sherlock Holmes anyway.
If you came here for the mystery, you might be a little disappointed. But if you came here for adventure and because of your curiosity about Enola Holmes, the film becomes infinitely more enjoyable and fun. The whole look and feel of the film is that of a period chick-lit or young adult story, reminding me often of Wild Child‘s scrapbook-like end-credits or of Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl series. But as soon as Enola makes it to London, you’ll start seeing glimpses (action scenes, London) of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, albeit not as dark. The themes explored in the film are also very coming-of-age, with the focus being more on Enola’s discovery of the outside world. As a teenage girl thrust into a world she is only heard or read about, you can understand that it is all quite overwhelming. She doesn’t adjust to it right away; she stumbles, and fails, making very basic mistakes like trusting the wrong people, giving into her feelings for a boy, and even thinking that her mother left her because she didn’t love her enough.
And these human attributes, which you’ll rarely find in Sherlock Holmes characterisations because he is so extraordinary all the time, is what makes Enola Holmes an instant hit. Also, Enola is witty AF, which I’d like to believe most women are. Because a lot of her wit and sass is juxtaposed with her breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to us, the audience, the Fleabag connect is unavoidable. You feel it right with the opening sequence, where Enola draws a montage of her life with a fourth-wall breaking monologue, and it stays with you throughout. Just like Fleabag, I think Enola secretly likes that she shocks and scandalises people wherever she goes! And the fact that Enola mocks her siblings but at the same time wants them to understand and love her for who she is, is another dynamic that made me think of that show.
Millie Bobby Brown as Enola Holmes makes for a charming feminist heroine!
Do you know when was the first time I found a fictional heroine that I couldn’t stop going gaga over? It wasn’t Elizabeth Bennett or Jo March. Or even Hermione Granger, for that matter, though, homegirl came close. It was Buffy Summers. She slayed vampires and all sorts of monsters, not just literally but also with her witty quips, and she did it without giving up any of her quirks or femininity. Enola Holmes, then, is a heroine much like the other three, in that she doesn’t care at all about being ‘lady-like’. And yet, Millie Bobby Brown’s feminist heroine has this charm and grace that make her instantly loveable because she finds a way to humour the expectations her brothers and society have from her, but at the same time, enjoy them. She’s a teenager, discovering her place in the outside world, trying on different things to see what fits, rather than be rigid about who she thinks she should be.
So whether it’s the new uncomfortable corsets and flowy dresses or a cute Lord’s attention, she basks in it all the same without having this air of superiority that she’s doing them a favour. I love it! Because being a feminist does not mean you don’t like the occasional indulgence. A lot of men need to understand that.
Millie Bobby Brown is incredible as Enola! She looks lovely in those period dresses, her wild hair resonating with the same energy as her personality, and breathtaking in every frame. You can see that she’s enjoying herself. There are moments, where her mischievous glances are so reminiscent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge that I can’t even!Images: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix
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A few not so ‘elementary’ flaws
Okay, so that mystery is a bit too juvenile. I know, Enola’s barely sixteen and I just harped on about how I love that the focus is on Enola, but come on! There could’ve been a little more to the clues! In fact, I think the movie had more of hand-to-hand combat scenes than sleuthing!
Which leads me to my next complaint, that about the Holmes bros. Henry Cavill looks the part, outfit and mildly amused demeanour et al., but he isn’t the Sherlock we are used to. Two reasons: One, there is no Watson banter to feed off of here, I wish they’d had even the teeniest nod to their bromance here. Second, because there isn’t much of sleuthing and the clues are highly basic, it is a little surprising that Sherlock didn’t ‘get there’ before his sister. To me, it felt like Enola gets ahead because she’s at the right place, at the right time, in the right company. And since she has all the clues easily, Sherlock is literally clue-less, but maybe not exactly outwitted. This is also a very humane Sherlock, and my twisted weird self prefers the high-functioning sociopath or Robert Downey Jr’s version of the British detective.
Now while I love Sam Claflin, his Mycroft is reduced pretty much to the caricature that Enola draws of him. After Mark Gatiss’ version in BBC’s Sherlock, I’d like to think Mycroft is a little more ‘intelligent’ than we give him credit for.
My biggest issue with Enola Holmes, though, is that the brilliant Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t have enough ‘complete scenes’ with Millie Bobby Brown. Can you imagine how electric those scenes would’ve been? We’ve known MBB do amazing in her scenes with DK Harbour’s Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, and this could be something like that. Instead, her scenes with Enola are mostly in the introductory montage which goes by faster than Bellatrix Lestrange can say Avada Kedavra. The rest are repeated combat scenes, where she mouths some inspirational quote or another, and then is off again. In fact, it makes a part of you detest her Eudoria in some way because if she really was all that amazing as Enola says she was, why did she abandon her and lead her on this rather ‘elementary’ goose-chase? Can you imagine if she would’ve been locked up in that awful boarding school had she not met the person who rescued her? That’s a lot of blind trust to put in a 16-year-old girl, if you ask me!
Verdict: Enola Holmes is total franchise material!
Rest assured, none of these flaws are dealbreakers and Enola Holmes is still plenty enjoyable and an absolute fun adventure. A lot of the credit goes to the young, refreshing setting of the movie, and Millie Bobby Brown’s cheeky portrayal of Enola Holmes as an underestimated feminist heroine who’s smarter than she gets credit for.
I have a feeling this could be the start of a franchise, in which case, the makers would get more credit to work on the aforementioned loopholes, iron them out, and give us a more rounded story with better developed characters. I’d totally want to see more of Eudoria Holmes raising young Enola, while she juggles her participation in the women’s suffrage movement, and the political implications of having two such women in the family for Mycroft! I’m already picturing Enola and Sherlock trying to solve a case together, so we can see more of how Henry Cavill’s Sherlock solves a case! Oh, and maybe Enola gets a Watson too? Or better yet, hijacks the real Watson, who is even more amused that someone other than Sherlock could possess such intellect!
Enola Holmes is definitely a movie that you can watch with your family (I watched it with my parents, and my mother loved it!) so that everyone learns the lesson about not underestimating women!
Enola Holmes streams on Netflix from September 23, 2020.