Spoilers ahead for Enola Holmes!
The recent Netflix original film, Enola Holmes, explores the coming-of-age tale of a Victorian teenager. Baby sister to the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) seeks to find not only their missing mother (Helena Bonham Carter), but also herself. With this, the movie has quite a bit to say on identity, women’s rights and female relationships.
The basic premise of the film follows 16-year-old Enola, who wakes on her birthday to find her mother missing. Having only a close relationship with her mother, Enola attempts to find her in London, adopting the detective skills of her older sibling. The bond between mother and daughter is core to the film’s plot, and there are numerous flashbacks to Enola at varying ages with her mother, Eudoria.
From these tender scenes we can see that Eudoria and Enola have a special connection, with Eudoria ensuring that her daughter is equipped with the skills for the modern world. Homeschooling never looked so fun when there’s home science experiments, horticulture and hand-to-hand combat practice!
However, in one of the final scenes it is revealed to us exactly why such a loving mother would suddenly abandon her teenage daughter. Eudoria is a suffragette, trying to persuade political change so that British women can have the right to vote. Whilst her tactics and actions may be questionable, we see that this is a woman desperate to create a better society for her daughter to grow up in.
The focus on the suffragette movement in Enola Holmes is also touched upon by other characters. When Sherlock himself visits his mother’s friend and ally, Edith (Susan Wokoma), she doesn’t hold back on criticising his apolitical stance.
In a scene that has been criticised itself by some as being “self-indulgent” (as though Netflix are giving themselves a pat on the back), a Black Victorian woman points out that privileged people have the luxury of not engaging in politics because they’re seemingly never affected by the outcomes.
Though in a turbulent political climate it’s refreshing to see a marginalised individual so boldly call out those who have power as being privileged by just being able to be disengaged.
Edith also is shown teaching martial arts to an all-female class, hidden behind her quaint little tea shop. Whilst the film is told solely from Enola’s young perspective (even repeatedly breaking the fourth wall) it’s interesting to still get an insight into the challenges and disadvantages faced by women at the time.
And whilst the presence of Edith as a Black woman reminds us that Victorian London was still a culturally diverse city, it would have been nice if Enola Holmes had spent more time with her character, exploring her challenges as a non-White woman of the period.
But whilst the trials of the ongoing Suffragette movement play out in the background, this is Enola’s story. A bold, individualistic and whimsical girl who decides that she is the only one in her family who cares most about their mother. She sets off on an exciting adventure to find her and her cause for leaving.
Enola Holmes is admittedly guilty of stepping into the trap of condemning traditional femininity. It’s important to understand it given the context of the time period. Enola may have been born for solving cyphers and anagrams, donning disguises and solving mysteries. However, society and her older brother, Mycroft (Sam Claflin), think otherwise.
Sent to a ladies’ college run by Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw), Enola is taught that she must act like a lady and that her ambitions in life are to be a wife, mother and homemaker. Of course, there is nothing wrong with women inhabiting these roles, but it’s obvious that Enola herself does not have any choice in the matter.
As just a teenager, Enola has already picked her own path and knows her own strengths. She’s confident in her abilities, content with her personality and willing to stand up for herself. She’s also deeply compassionate and sympathetic to others.
This is so refreshing to see when young girls are often portrayed as being confused by notions of who they’re meant to be and what they want out of life, something that is rarely explored in such ways with young boys.
On the whole, Enola Holmes may come across as corny and too simplistic at times. For younger audience members Enola can be a realistic heroine for the modern-day, even if she’s from Victorian England!
Enola Holmes is available to stream now on Netflix.
This article was originally published on 10/2/20