Review – Enola Holmes

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, October 2nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A new Sherlock Holmes mystery that’s winning big audiences with teen and tween girls. 

But Megan Basham says there are some elements of the film she doesn’t want to come as a surprise to you if you’re a parent.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: We’ve seen plenty of Sherlock Holmes variations in recent years. But with the possible exception of Hugh Laurie’s doctor on House, I don’t know if we’ve seen one as creative as Sherlock interpreted as a 16-year-old girl. In Netflix’s new original film, Enola Holmes, Millie Bobbie Brown of Stranger Things gives a delightful performance as the famed detective’s little sister.

CLIP: I believe our recent brush with death at least deserves a name. Enola Holmes. Holmes? Like Sherlock? And I am undercover so forget I told you that piece of information. Undercover working for him? Undercover from him. Hence why you are dressed as a boy. Hence why you are to say nothing.

After years of living cloistered away in a country estate, receiving an unconventional home-education, she wakes up one day to find her mother missing. Her two brothers—Mycroft and Sherlock are at a loss. It’s clear the Holmes matriarch left Ferndell Hall of her own volition, but they have no idea why. Enola rejects their plan of sending her to a girls’ finishing school while they sort things out. Instead she decides to make an escape in the most Sherlockian fashion, complete with plenty of disguises.

She goes to London with the idea of leaving coded messages in newspapers, hoping her mother will see and answer in kind. Along the way, she joins forces with a young aristocrat. Naturally, romance blooms. Charming, chaste romance, suitable for the tween and teen audience the film is intended to draw. It’s rated a mild PG-13 for a smattering of minor language and martial arts violence.

CLIP: Don’t look at me like that. I’m sorry. I don’t want your pity, Tewkesbury. If you don’t stop looking at me like that Viscount Irritation Marquis of Bothersomeshire, I’ll murder you myself. People don’t seem to want us, do they? No. Still, at least we’ve got each other.

But Enola’s age and gender aren’t the only twists to this otherwise tried-and-true Victorian mystery. The subtext to the story is surprisingly of the moment.

Enola’s life is populated with ideological types we will instantly recognize though their world is 100 years past. Most notable is how the story subtly shifts the way we view Sherlock. He’s always been an eccentric, cantankerous character. But this story argues that his eccentricities are merely one more benefit of his privilege.

He doesn’t read the newspaper and is disengaged from broad social currents because they don’t impact the high station he enjoys in English society as an upper-middle class white man.

CLIP: Whatever mischief you two are— Mischief! A poor choice of word. Try not to sound like your brother. You haven’t any hope of understanding any of this. You do know that? Educate me as to why. Because you don’t know what it is to be without power. Politics doesn’t interest you. Why? Because it’s fatally boring. Because you have no interest in changing a world that suits you so well.  

The film even goes so far as to imply that violence can be a legitimate means for ushering in change.

CLIP: Did you find the gunpowder and the bombs? I did. Why would she? I shudder to think. Perhaps she wants to change the world. Perhaps it’s a world that needs changing.

Clearly the producers feel that those who believe many principles of the past should be defended are in the wrong. But it’s a useful exercise to see why they think so and consider how to make a case that defense of some established orders isn’t unfailingly based in personal advantage.

CLIP: Beautiful, isn’t it? It always felt an honor to me that my family was given this part of England to protect. To protect? That is what it is to be an ancestral landowner. As the world becomes increasingly unstable, it feels important that these ideas of England are preserved. For the safety and security of the future of our country. It is lovely here. But you’re probably one of those new thinkers. My son was one of those new thinkers too. Never could focus on what was, it was always about what could be. I suspect my grandson is the same. England’s true glory is what is, do you see.

The story doesn’t portray all those who disagree with progressive aims as evil, simply blind. And there’s a certain arrogance in that, isn’t there? The arrogance that we’re all grappling with these days. To assume that those who don’t see the world as we do must not see as clearly as we do.

As the film is squarely targeted at girls the age of my oldest daughter, I asked myself while watching whether I would let her view it. Even though I take issue with the assumptions it makes of those who stand athwart history yelling, stop, I decided I will. And then we will talk about how the story portrays the various characters. Enola’s mother and her rebel friends, the revolutionaries. The Dowager Viscountess of Tewkesbury, the beneficiary of systemic privilege. And Sherlock, the entrenched member of the bourgeoisie, politically disengaged because the status-quo suits him.

We’ll talk about who each of these characters represent in our own society. And then we’ll talk about how accurately the story represents their views.

Enola Holmes does a neat job capturing current ideological debates in a pretty package. Along with being genuinely entertaining I believe parents of older children can use it as a launching point to start meaningful discussions…even if they’re not the discussions the filmmakers intended. 

I’m Megan Basham.

(Alex Bailey/Netflix via AP) This image released by Netflix shows Henry Cavill, from left, Millie Bobby Brown and Sam Claflin in a scene from “Enola Holmes.” 

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