Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Is Enola Holmes the Sherlock Holmes spinoff we’ve been waiting for? And was anyone actually waiting?
When I first watched the trailer for Enola Holmes last month, I questioned if Millie Bobby Brown was actually playing the title character. Not because I didn't recognize Brown but because the only other role I had seen Brown in was Eleven from Stranger Things which is the polar opposite to her role here (I think she has more lines in the first 5 minutes of Enola Holmes than in all 3 seasons of Stranger Things). It's unsettling to see Brown go 15 minutes without getting a nosebleed but after those first 15 minutes, you'll forget about Brown's past performances and fall in love with the vivacious, amusing, and endearing character of Enola Holmes.
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Enola's mother, Eudoria, always told her that, "you will be fine all on your own." yet didn't spend a day apart from her daughter. Eudoria was a fan of word games and made sure to teach Enola all about them. Word games became a way for them to communicate. She insisted on the name Enola for her only daughter, which Enola points out plenty of times, spells alone backward. Enola was home-schooled and practiced sports along with various physical and mental exercises with her mother. Eudoria was seen as free-thinking and independent, qualities that she happily passed to Enola. So independent in fact that Eudoria never bothered to introduce Enola to the world that exists outside of their rich estate. Their world was isolated and small. Then, one morning, Eudoria left, leaving Enola nothing but an arrangement of gifts and a string of cryptic clues, beginning the mystery.
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The film begins with Enola's brothers, Mycroft the aristocrat, and Sherlock the detective, returning home to check on her after their mother's disappearance. The problem is the last time they were all in a room together was when Enola was a toddler. Truthfully, Enola is more so Sherlock's number one fan rather than his sister. When all of them first meet, both brothers but Mycroft in particular, are appalled by how unkempt and unconventional Enola is. Mycroft and Sherlock play very different roles in the film. Sherlock is largely unbothered and sympathetic to Enola while Mycroft is harsh and repressive. After meeting Enola, Mycroft almost immediately moves to put her in a Finishing School. Sherlock reluctantly goes with the plan as Enola protests against it. Before the matter is resolved, Enola finds a clue which prompts her to leap into the outside world and find her mother herself.
Starting off her journey, Enola runs into Lord Viscount Tewkesbury who smuggles himself onto a train to get away from his powerful family. The lord, being around the same age and in a similar circumstance, makes him the perfect love interest for the young Enola. The lively dynamic between the two characters keeps you engaged in whatever they decide to do. They strike up a bond after Enola saves Lord Tewkesbury from a hired assassin, creating another mystery for Enola to solve.
The two mysteries take turns driving the plot but they both leave a lot to be desired. The disappearance of Eudoria starts off intriguing but quickly becomes overshadowed by the whodunnit murder mystery of Lord Tewkesbury. The writers fail to juggle these mysteries well and as a result, the Eudoria storyline suffers greatly. As Enola searches for her mother, many interesting questions are introduced and while one might assume those questions get addressed later in the film instead, in a pivotal scene, we get a vague -- catch-all inspirational quote that gives us no closure. The tired and true whodunnit mystery, on the other hand, isn’t particularly compelling but it provides the framework for many captivating character dynamics that become the film's saving grace. Despite Enola’s said brilliance, neither mystery is solved by her. In fact, the only quality of Enola’s that amounts to anything is her reckless bravery.
“Your life is your own.” is the dogma that defines Enola’s journey. As a 16yr old girl in the late 19th century, most adults want to control Enola. Restrict her to a life of corsets and poise but Enola, being independent and free-thinking, defies these expectations. Despite the heavy-handed message of female empowerment, the film manages to keep itself from becoming a sermon by making the message in line with the times. Harry Bradbeer, the director, encompasses the message in an underlying subplot of the 1884 Reform Act. The film paints the bill out to be a symbol of liberation and a monumental moment in women’s suffrage. The Reform Act, while significant in the effort to ensure voting rights for all people, only extended voting rights to a wider demographic of men. The bill wasn’t a monumental moment for women's rights but it did lay the groundwork for the suffrage movement later on. Of course, the film doesn’t go into the details and doesn’t need to. The stakes of the bill are established all the same and as the story moves along, this subplot becomes more and more significant.
CAST AND CHARACTERS
Enola Holmes isn’t full of breakout performances but each of the cast members fulfills their roles well. Sam Claflin as the obligatory misogynist (you always need one in a period piece!), Louis Partridge as the avant-garde marquess, Burn Gorman as the cruel murderer; there isn’t one that stands out amongst the rest... in a negative way. In a positive way, Millie Bobby Brown easily carries the film and has on-screen chemistry with each of her co-stars. Helena Bonham Carter was a perfect choice to play the enigmatic and mysterious motherly figure. Although, I would’ve liked to see her have a larger role in the film or at least exist outside of Enola’s memories, especially when a lot of the film revolves around her. Cavill plays the brilliant and unbothered Sherlock Holmes adequately. I must admit to not being the biggest fan of Sherlock so I can’t compare Henry Cavill’s performance to others or even the source material but the strength of Enola Holmes comes from making the film stand independent from any Sherlock story. She is her own character and Sherlock isn’t depreciated to glorify her.
Bradbeer didn't make Enola Holmes be a female Sherlock Holmes film and he didn't make it to be filled with intriguing mysteries. He made it to be a light-hearted coming of age film with some name recognition, a hint of mystery, and an inspirational end. You’ll remember Enola Holmes for the bright characters and delightful performances, not so much for the story. It’s clear Harry Bradbeer knew what the strengths of the film were and played to them. With a better story and a focus on Enola’s sleuthing skills, a sequel could easily become something exceptional.
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