By Nora Lowe
In a time fraught with uncertainty, there are some things that have endured. Netflix has been a constant in the lives of many. Offering a seemingly bottomless pit of television programs spanning countless genres and eras, it is a treasure trove for the average American, confined to their home due to matters quarantine-related or otherwise.
One of the recent Netflix originals, Enola Holmes, is a playful and heartwarming screen adaptation of Nancy Springer’s successful book series. It details the shenanigans and more serious intellectual savvy of Enola Holmes, the younger sister of the infamous Sherlock. When a teenage-Enola wakes one day to find her mother has gone missing she is horrified to find the prophecy of her name (an anagram of “alone”) fulfilled. However, a series of unconventional clues her mother left in her wake cue Enola into a shocking realization: her mother left voluntarily. Enola thereafter makes it her duty to locate her.
However, her two older brothers, the devious Mycroft and the far more admirable Sherlock make it their mission to ensure Enola receives a “proper” education and grows into a worldly lady. Having only returned home after their mother disappeared, they were shocked at the state of the Holmes estate and perceived Enola to be entirely uneducated and lacking in etiquette. Despite Enola’s insistence that her mother’s eclectic pedagogy (including jujitsu, which lends itself nicely to some combat scenes) made her well-equipped for the real world, they intended to force her into attending a finishing school.
Enola, rebellious and unyielding, leaves under the cover of darkness. Disguised as a boy, she boards a train where she coincidentally meets The Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether (a long-winded title I still cannot pronounce), a fellow stowaway and a future love interest. In this manner, she becomes entwined in an entirely different conflict: a clandestine dispute between youth and status quo loving elders of the English House of Lords. Her loyalty to this new acquaintance puts Enola in grave danger multiple times throughout the film, and also gives her the opportunity to establish herself as a detective with skills to rival Sherlock’s. She and Tewksbury make their way to London and part to pursue their own paths, later reconvening to help each other resolve their respective conflicts.
I watched this movie partially because of its star-studded cast: Millie Bobby Brown (Enola), Henry Cavill (Sherlock), and Helena Bonham Carter (Enola’s mother) to name a few. According to Forbes, the movie initially was the second-most-watched film on Netflix.
Perhaps, like me, those early viewers were immediately struck by the unique camera work of the film. It opens with Brown riding her bicycle, addressing the camera directly. This is a common motif throughout the movie and I found the decision to break the fourth wall startling but also effective and engaging.
I also appreciated the exquisite detail of the sets and costumes, which were gorgeous and elaborate. For instance, the floral wallpapers and costume choices were both eye-catching and period-appropriate.
My one critique of the film is that, in my opinion, it was overly ambitious to attempt to tackle so many themes: friendship, forbidden love, the subjugation of women at the turn of the century, the strengthening of the feminist movement, and the conflict between maintaining the status quo and trying to alter it. While they were all detectable, they mingled together and were not fully developed. This resulted in some gaping plot holes. For example, when Enola and her mother do meet at the film’s conclusion, the only explanation she offers for her abrupt disappearance was: “I didn’t leave you because I didn’t love you, I left for you, because I couldn’t bear to have this world be your future, so I had to fight.” While touching, this sentiment doesn’t provide the much-anticipated elucidation of why her departure had to be secret, and although Enola forgave her mother, I did not entirely.
Nevertheless, the film was overall extremely powerful with a surprisingly happy resolution (which is increasingly rare today). There were some powerful lines that stuck as well, such as Enola’s mother’s: “You have to make some noise if you want to be heard.” I would recommend this movie as the perfect family-friendly film (it’s PG-13). Its powerful and striking camerawork and design make it a must-watch.