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'Enola Holmes' review: A skillful, exquisite spin on the Victorian mystery genre

By Cara Gabrielle Olaguer Published Sep 25, 2020 12:11 am Updated Sep 25, 2020 12:14 am

Exploring the Holmesian world created by Arthur Conan Doyle is not a new thing, but Enola Holmes brings a fresh spin on the Victorian mystery genre – that being, the delivery of a poignant, but quick-witted narrative of women redefining norms in a very traditional society.

Fans of the Sherlock Holmes series, both classic and modern, will definitely find their interests piqued by the film.

Enola Holmes is a film adaptation of Nancy Springer’s book mystery series of the same name released on Netflix. It centers on the teenage sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and her search for her mother, Eudoria, amid the political bustles of 19th century London. The film features a star-studded cast with Millie Bobby Brown as Enola, Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin as Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes respectively, and Helena Bonham Carter as Eudoria, among others.

(WARNING: Very minor spoilers ahead.)

There are several things that made Enola Holmes thoroughly enjoyable, familiar as the premise of having a heroine going against societal norms is. One of them included the occasional fourth-wall commentary of Enola during exciting moments in the film – such as sassing her brothers for not recognising her at first, monologuing her way through a fight, and showing her delight when another character helped her escape the finishing school she was sent off to. Given this display of Enola’s perspective with Millie Bobby Brown’s brilliant acting plus the masterful score by Daniel Pemberton, it was very easy to get involved with the characters and the story.

Enola prepares to act like a proper lady of society to escape her brothers.

Another thing that made the film exquisite is its ability to capture the political developments of the time alongside its careful, but thoughtful unraveling of its many mysteries – i.e. where and why did Eudoria leave on the morning of Enola’s sixteenth birthday? Given that the 19th century was a time of extraordinary change, the film showcased the suffragist movement – a campaign for women to be given the right to vote – in two levels, the personal and the political. In this film, however, assume that both levels overlap as is true of the era.

On the political level, we saw it in a heated debate between Sherlock and Enola’s jujitsu teacher, Edith, about his indifference towards politics. Edith argued that his privilege blinds him to the cruelty of the status quo. In another instance, Enola and Lord Tewksbury kept fighting off several assassination attempts due to the latter’s political beliefs. It was so bad that it even led Enola to take a break from finding her mother due to the urgency of the situation.

In a meta way, we also saw a multinational cast playing important roles, such as Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade alongside Susie Wokoma (Edith) in the film. While this is certainly due to the Oscars requiring inclusiveness in film entries, it is still a welcome commitment for the films of today.

Enola Holmes was able to thoroughly captivate its audience, to the point where it felt like you were solving the mysteries along with the characters. It is certainly a film that warrants a re-watch during this quarantine era.

For the personal level, a notable example is how characters, particularly Enola, criticised the usage of crinolines – a stiff undergarment for women – as oppressive. Certainly, Enola later appreciated the crinoline for its practical use to hide things for her mission, however, it must be recognised that during this era, it was also a way for women to protect themselves from threats, particularly “unwanted male attention.” There is not a lot to criticise in Enola Holmes, but had this typical misconception been clarified, it would have added to the nuances of the film.

Another example that exhibited the film’s skill in developing the Holmesian universe on a personal level is how it navigated the interpersonal relationships of its characters. For instance, we saw how the Holmes children interacted with each other. Towards Enola, Mycroft, being the eldest and working for the government, was very strict with her social conduct. Meanwhile, Sherlock, though reserved, was more respectful and encouraging of Enola’s pursuits. Despite this contrast, however, it was clear to see that both brothers cared for their little sister in their own ways.

That aside, the film elevated the dialogue of the era further when Eudoria revealed to her daughter that the main purpose of her departure was to ascertain the happiness of Enola’s future. These days, we live in a world where expecting the older generation to remember that the onus of tomorrow does not simply lie on the “hope of the future” (read: youth) is moot. As the film did say, the “future is up to us.”

Given layers and layers of nuance, Enola Holmes was able to thoroughly captivate its audience, to the point where it felt like you were solving the mysteries along with the characters. A thrilling experience, it is certainly a film that warrants a re-watch during this quarantine era. It’s not hard to see why most critics of Enola Holmes celebrated its release.

(Images from Netflix)