Saturday, October 10, 2020

ENOLA HOLMES: The Possibilities of an Indian Inspector Lestrade

In the recent Netflix series Enola Holmes, the police officer Inspector Lestrade is played by Adeel Akhtar, who is of Pakistani background. In the original stories, there's no indication that Lestrade was anything but a white Briton (although his name is actually French) and someone online suggested this was simply a case of colorblind casting where the actor's ethnicity/nationality is simply not considered in picking the role, making Lestrade Indian actually raises some interesting possibilities in regards to his back-story and characterization.

For starters, why is an Indian man working as a police officer in Great Britain in 1884, the year the reform bill that's a big part of the movie passed? Akhtar himself suggested that his Lestrade came from a working-class background and had to work his way up to his police position, leaving his back-story full of possibilities.

*India at the time was part of the British Empire and theoretically Indians could travel and live anywhere within its bounds--the Komogata Maru Incident I helped research as a graduate student was a legal test of that concept). Furthermore, many Indian sailors lived in port towns and even had British wives due to there being so very few Indian women in Britain. Akhtar's Lestrade could be from that background, perhaps a former sailor or a child of such, which would tie in with the working-class background. A 1931 census indicated there were thousands of Indian students in British universities, so Lestrade could be going to school part-time and paying for it by working as a police officer. Given his apparent age, this could be something he's been working at for awhile.

*Another possibility is that his presence in the UK is related to the Indian Civil Service. According to the book I used when I taught AP World History, theoretically anybody could work in the Indian Civil Service, but because examinations were held in Britain, it was extraordinarily difficult for Indians to access them. The Indian National Congress was actually founded in part to include more Indians in government--it didn't start out as a national independence movement. Lestrade's family could have paid for him to come to Great Britain to take the exams, he failed, and he's working as a police officer to pay them back. Or more optimistically, he hasn't taken the exams yet and this is how he supports himself until he does. His associations with the civil-service might explain why he is a police officer despite not being British--an Indian man applying to Scotland Yard might be rejected due concerns he might not be able to do the job effectively as a foreigner or simple straight-up racism, but an exception might be made for a civil-service candidate, either current or previous.

*Also, given how Lestrade's name is actually French, there are some other possibilities. This might be a name he adopted upon coming to Britain, indicating a desire to assimilate (especially since one study, albeit a disputed one, suggests Britons with Norman names are wealthier than those without even centuries after the conquest) or perhaps a Dark and Troubled Past he's trying to avoid. Alternatively, given how the French had a colonial presence in India before being defeated by the British, perhaps he's distantly descended from a Frenchman? Bonus points if as such he's actually Catholic, given the history of anti-Catholicism in Britain even in the 19th Century.

Although I'm almost certainly reading too much into this, if more Enola Holmes films are made (it is based on a book series) and Akhtar continues to play the role, this could be an interesting rabbit hole to go down. And if anybody wants to write a fan fiction story elaborating on this, go right ahead.

(Heck, Lestrade is public domain by now--although one wonders if a specifically Indian one is--so you could actually write a novel. Just leave out Enola completely and it probably won't be a copyright issue.)

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