‘I’ ON CULTURE
Netflix had presented us with a cute new movie, Enola Holmes. It focuses on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s smarter young sister. For any among us who have actually read Arthur Conan Doyle’s works about the brilliant detective, and even most of the follow-up stories and books written, having a sister at all is something new. Putting that matter aside, the movie is enjoyable and would be a real treat for teen girls, not surprising since it comes from Nancy Springer’s young adult series of novels.
Much of the story is essentially proto-feminist. Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), raised on the family estate by her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) and taught far more than girls generally were at the time, including unarmed combat, wakes up one morning to find her mother gone. She deduces (shades of Sherlock) that her mother is on the run for “revolutionary activities.” It seems there’s a reform bill that would give poorer people (but not women, although that is hinted at incorrectly in the stories) the vote in Britain, and momma is ready to take action.
Enola contacts her older brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and learns that she does not satisfy the patriarchy and is ordered to go to a girls’ school. Shown later, it is a place of horror where girls are marched around all day with books on their head to improve their posture with very little of learning actual subjects. At any rate, before being sent there, Enola takes off and hops a train heading to London.
Along the way, she meets hapless Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), on the run from a killer (Burn Gorman). Enola rescues him, and they travel on for a while. But she has her own plans. Most of the story involves escaping the killer as well as Police Inspector Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) because, well, if you want a good young adult story, you need your heroine to deal with older men who they can work around. After all, this is a story about how young women deal with a patriarchal society, where even their male siblings believe women should “know their place.”
The plot takes a bit too long to get to its main point, the one which explains exactly why the cute Viscount is a target, but things move along cheerfully as the plot chugs on until the end. The main reason for the charm is Brown. Happily breaking down the “fourth wall,” the barrier between herself and the audience, she charmingly becomes not only a hero, but a fun person as she explains her ideas. She is on the cusp of womanhood, trying to find herself and feeling more than a bit weirded out by her feelings for the Viscount. He is cute, but also smart and rather helpless, and quite willing to let Enola take the lead. That allows Enola to be a bit of a dynamo, solving things with minimal clues and fighting off a killer twice her size. There is a charming scene where she mutters about having to wear current high fashion, including a corset that ends with her realization that she is no longer a girl, but a young woman. It is a lovely coming of age story presented in one scene.
Aside from Brown, the cast is good but not called upon to do very much. Bonham Carter is a fine actress and does very well in the few scenes she is in, but they are very few. Cavill is good-looking and very understanding, even if he does come up with Enola’s answers sometime after she does. And, of course, that is exactly the opposite of Conan Doyle’s character. Mycroft, by the way, turned into a reactionary curmudgeon and is very different from the books, where he presented as smarter than Sherlock but so lazy that he never goes anywhere. However, that does present a foil for the young girl, a somewhat more benign reactionary than some of the other characters.
This is clearly designed for younger audiences, particularly girls. But at a time when much of what we have to watch involves soulless violence, it is a nice change. The film will not win awards, but it does pass the time nicely,