The recently released Netflix film, Enola Holmes, based on the novels by Nancy Springer, introduces us to the little-known younger sister of the famous Sherlock Holmes. When their mother, Eudoria, disappears on Enola’s 16th birthday, Enola is forced to deal with her first mystery.
Through the eyes of Millie Bobby Brown’s witty, independent Enola we are introduced to the conservative world of the Victorians – one resistant to change – from which she is determined to break free. Not only is Enola Holmes Brown’s debut lead in a feature film, she also produced it alongside her older sister Paige. Following their discovery of the Nancy Springer novels, the sisters became the driving force behind the film, pushing it to production. They were also vital in fostering the strong feminist themes of the film as, according to Millie herself, the sisters are “very empowerment-oriented”. Having to flee her unpleasant, traditional, older brother Mycroft’s attempt to send her off to a finishing school so she can learn how to be a “lady”, Enola encounters a young Lord Tewksbury also escaping his family. Their stories become entangled when she saves him from attempted murder and his important role in potential voting reform is revealed.
The strength of the film lies in Brown’s portrayal of Enola, exposing us to a different side of her acting. She provides a strong, clever female lead going against what the male dominated world around her demands, with Enola declaring at one point to Mycroft that she does not want a husband. Brown’s Enola is supported well by Henry Cavill’s refreshing take on Sherlock, displaying a basic level of empathy and emotion towards Enola and disagreement with Mycroft’s attempts to fully constrain her. Sam Claflin as Mycroft acts as a representative figure for the patriarchal society of the time, sending Sherlock after Enola in an attempt to bring her back and send her to a Darwinian boarding school, instead of after their own mother. Enola’s successful resolution of her first mystery, beating out Sherlock, leads to the transfer of guardianship from Mycroft to Sherlock. This makes Enola Holmes a great example of a young woman finding her own path, breaking free of gender roles and striving for equality – relatable to many today.
However, in spite of the strong character portrayals, the story often fails to impress and at times seems confused and drawn out. The initial mystery of Eudoria’s disappearance at points comes second to the Lord Tewksbury case and his relationship with Enola – their lack of chemistry taking away from Enola’s strong character. Enola’s abilities are also unrepresented in the film after being hyped up throughout: her mystery solving on screen consisted of her codebreaking using newspapers. Furthermore, the story depicts the Suffragette movement at the time, yet fails to sufficiently expand on it and while Eudoria’s involvement in the militant aspects are made clear, her story still feels incomplete.
While the story has its weakness, the strong characters allow the core themes of the film to shine through. Enola Holmes gives us insight into the future of cinema, with a strong, young, independent female lead and the focus on her forging her own path in spite of the patriarchy’s attempts to stop her – a story that many will relate to and yet is underrepresented in modern male dominated media. As a result, Enola Holmes, a film targeted at a younger audience as they come into the adult world, is able to act as an inspirational film for those striving for further equality and fighting against rigid, outdated societal expectations.