Rated PG. Based on a book by Nancy Springer. Available on Netflix.
Who knew that the world-famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes had a lesser-known sister? The new Netflix film Enola Holmes introduces us not only to Sherlock’s sister, Enola (Millie Bobbie Brown), but also to his mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Given the extraordinary, albeit fictional, nature of Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) Holmes, it is surely no surprise to find their mother and sister similarly remarkable.
Enola Holmes sees Enola setting out alone, not only to escape the finishing school Mycroft has enrolled her in, but ultimately to find her mother, who has disappeared of her own accord for an undisclosed reason. This journey is complicated by the increasingly intertwined plot of a villain (Burn Gorman) seeking to discover and destroy the young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) while Enola tries to save him.
The film offers a healthy dose of ‘girl power’ in the form of martial arts mastery, superior deciphering powers and the conviction that women may live happily and contentedly without men and without the bonds of Victorian ‘lady-like’ domesticity. But this is surely an acceptable antidote to decades of insipid, decorative and easily led female characters on screen.
While strong female characters putting up with bumblingly useless male characters has become a familiar TV and cinema trope, that is happily not the case in Enola Holmes. While Inspector Lestrade is routinely outsmarted and Mycroft is portrayed unsympathetically, Enola’s detective talents do not show up Sherlock’s, but rather reveal her to be equally capable, but with different strengths, such as kindness and compassion. The film also reveals Lord Tewkesbury’s unexpected talents and abilities and highlights his vital responsibility of voting in the House of Lords to create a better future.
Enola Holmes is a visual feast of lush English countryside and elegant, stately homes; it also portrays both the genteel and edgier sides of London. The film’s costumes and props are clever and luxurious, presenting Enola in multiple disguises and anchoring the story at a specific point in time. While obviously a period piece, the story has a timeless quality, which makes the modern, jaunty soundtrack and beautifully diverse cast fit quite seamlessly. There is in fact a particularly profound moment when Edith (Susan Wokoma) suggests that the reason Sherlock has no interest in politics is not that it bores him (as he claims), but rather that the present political circumstances happen to suit him very well.
Enola Holmes deals sensitively with significant questions, such as how we cope with abandonment and what kind of society we want to create for our children. It raises many issues that families can talk about with respect to creating positive change, the importance of female suffrage and the value of family loyalty. This film does contain short scenes of violence, very mild language and a brief camera shot of Enola being dressed in a corset. Enola Holmes would be most suitable for tweens (ages 10–12) although enjoyable for any age group.
If Enola Holmes has a weak point it is in the dual plot. While one sub plot is resolved tightly, the other leaves questions unanswered and motivations unexplained. This leaves, hopefully, the space for a sequel.
I enjoyed watching Enola Holmes with my family. The more I considered the film, the more I found to appreciate. Because the audience is assumed to be intelligent and capable, Enola Holmes not only entertains, but is one of the most thoughtful movies I've watched in a long time. I highly recommend it.
Kate Pass lives in sunny Brisbane with her family and enjoys drinking coffee, reading books and thinking carefully about the Bible.
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