Thursday, May 13, 2021

Movie Review: ENOLA HOLMES (2020)

In that long-lost year of 2019, I decided to enter the 21st Century and get Netflix streaming. Although the main shows I watched--The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and V-Wars--weren't renewed, there was other fun content to be found. The Netflix production I ended up enjoying the most was Enola Holmes, so much so that I wrote a review of it for my Mailchimp newsletter and wrote an earlier post about the casting of an Indian actor to play Inspector Lestrade.

Now that a sequel has officially been announced, I figured I'd share my review with a broader audience.

The Plot

Britain's greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) didn't have just one sibling, older brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin), but a much, much younger sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). Sherlock and Mycroft were adults (or nearly so) when she was born and their father died soon after, leaving her to be raised by her eccentric mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Eudoria taught her all sorts of things that Victorian society wouldn't approve upper-class young ladies knowing (i.e. martial arts, explosive chemistry, etc.) and Enola is as extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive as her brother.

Then Eudoria disappears. Mycroft and Sherlock  investigate and Mycroft, vexed that Enola isn't by his standards particularly "ladylike," sends her to a ladies' finishing school run by the domineering Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw). Enola runs away, seeking clues her mother left behind and stumbling across a conspiracy to kill the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) that's connected to legislation that would expand voting rights in Britain. Meanwhile her two brothers are looking for her...

The Good

*Millie Bobby Brown does an absolutely amazing job as Enola. Seriously, she's the best part of the movie. She puts so much emotion into the part, both positive and negative, and she's so entertaining to watch. Her facial expressions in particular are often hilarious. Cavill and Claflin are good in their parts as well--although they're much less entertaining than Enola is, Cavil projects Holmes' intelligence and Claflin is downright hissable as Mycroft (more on that later). Although she's not in the movie very much, Carter's very good as well and the scenes between her and Enola have real poignance.

*The script is generally well-written. Enola has a running commentary on everything (including at times breaking the fourth wall) that made me laugh out loud several times. I'm sure the people near me at the gym (I watch a lot of Netflix on my Kindle on the elliptical or the bike) really appreciated that. :)

*The movie moves along at a quick clip and is rarely dull. It make running on the elliptical and ironing clothes so much more tolerable.

*The film gets a lot more political than I remember the Holmes stories being. The stories I've read seem to focus on him solving crimes and what-not, but during the time Sherlock would have lived (the last story is set at the start of WWI and he's a very old man), British society was rapidly changing. A major plot point are the Reform Bills (based on the time period I'm guessing The Representation of the People Act of 1884) and there was also a lot of agitation by women for the right to vote. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might not have been interested in making his stories about "issues" (and in-universe Holmes might be too monomaniacal about solving crimes to care about politics), but this is a pretty interesting vein to mine.

*The importance of women being able to control their own money is a major plot point. To quote TVTropes, Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped.

The Bad

The characterization of Enola and Sherlock's older brother Mycroft is grossly unsubtle. The filmmakers needed a villain and apparently the people involved in a plot to murder a teenage boy weren't good enough. So they depicted a man characterized in the original books as being as smart as Sherlock but just too lazy to do anything with it into a cranky, snide reactionary (he's clearly disdainful of the Reform Bill) who's downright mean to Enola and is explicitly depicted as not having either of his siblings' intelligence. That last part is just really petty on the filmmakers' part, especially given what I said a minute ago about how in the source material he's as smart as Sherlock, just lazy and hidebound.

Yes, I imagine most Victorian men of their social class would find her exasperating and embarrassing, but she's still his younger sister. He can want to send her to a mind-numbing ladies' finishing school against her wishes and pull rank as her older brother (and legal guardian in the absence of her parents) without being that nasty. He also doesn't seem particularly concerned for well-being--a pretty young woman without much real-life experience on the run in Victorian Britain is probably in great danger and that should worry both him and Sherlock, but he seems more vexed that she's gotten out from under his control than concerned about her not getting raped, killed, etc. And as I mentioned earlier, just to make sure we know he's Bad, he thinks letting more people in Britain vote will be the downfall of the nation.

If the goal is to critique Victorian society as a whole rather than a few bad apples, he could still love his sister and mean well but still plan to to shove Enola's square peg into society's round hole because He's A Man And He Knows What's Best. It is possible for good people to make bad and even downright cruel decisions thinking it's The Right Thing To Do, so there was no need to make Mycroft into such a spiteful, mean-spirited jerk.

The Verdict

An absolutely delightful film and I hope there's a sequel. After all, the film is based on a book series. 9.0 out of 10. Oh and by the way, Netflix came up with a clever way to promote it.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen that yet, but it's on the list.

    BTW, when it comes to female martial artists, there actually seems to have been a surprisingly large movement to bring self-defense skills to women. Both bartitsu, ju-jutsu and judo were taught, as well as sword fighting, shooting and even pugilism. And the "umbrella defense". :D