4YE Reviews: Enola Holmes Breaks The Fourth Wall And Solves The Case In Generic Netflix Film

Credit: Netflix

More and more recently, authors are bringing their own flares to public domain works and introducing their audiences to fantastical new journeys as well as expanding on the canon everyone knows and loves. This loving exploration has expanded to movies and screenwriters and producers are bringing audiences daring new points of view for the modern age. These POVs are often crackling with wit, originality, and new characters that audiences are supposed to engage with and connect to. Moira Walley-Beckett did it with Anne With an E. Autumn de Wilde did it, in a fashion, with Emma. Screenwriter Nancy Springer and director Harry Bradbeer tried to do it with The Enola Holmes Mysteries, shortened to Enola Holmes for the film version but failed to produce anything of substance.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes canon, there was no mention of either Holmes boy having a sister. In fact, even Mycroft was barely mentioned. He only appeared in one canon story, “The Greek Interpreter.” BBC’s Sherlock greatly expanded Mycroft’s role in Sherlock’s life and introduced an institutionalized sister named Eurus. Other television and film adaptations have followed suit, all appearing without sisters.

Enola Holmes introduces us to Enola, played by Millie Bobby Brown, who’s first name spelled backward is “alone.” But as she points out in the opening narrative, she is anything but alone. She has been lovingly cared for by her equally plucky mother who has taught her everything she needs to know including history, science, deductions, ciphers, art, and the list goes on.

When Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) disappears one morning, Enola calls upon her brothers Mycroft (Sam Clafin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavil) to help crack the case. Surprisingly, both Holmes boys are stumped and Mycroft immediately shows his wretched true colors by attempting to control Enola, much to her dismay. She is not a woman, thank you very much, and has no interest in becoming what society says she should be. Mycroft balks at the whole idea, bringing in finishing school headmistress Mrs. Harrison (Fiona Shaw) to whip Enola into shape. Of course, she escapes to London after receiving a gift from Eudoria with clues to find her whereabouts.

Along the way, Enola meets a young Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who is being chased by Burn Gorman in a brown bowler hat. The man in the bowler hat, named Linthorn, is out to kill Tewksbury. Enola wants nothing to do with Tewksbury and whatever trouble he’s gotten into but is soon intrigued and takes up his cause, which distracts her from her ultimate goal: find her mother.

Even typing out the synopsis makes me tired and exasperated. Why? Because the plot borrows from stories I’ve read before, most of them classics that have been adapted in other media before. For instance, the prickly Mrs. Harrison reminds me of the headmistress in A Little Princess. Enola reminds me of Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Her whole relationship with Tewksbury reminds me of something Austen would write, only less sharp and witty. In fact, Enola feels like she should be in an Austen novel, but she definitely isn’t an Austen heroine.

I don’t know what Enola is, or even who she is. Springer (through Enola and exhausting fourth wall breaks) tries to tell us who Enola is but it boils down to one simple problem with no discernable solution: she is Sherlock’s sister. That’s it. That is her only definable characteristic. In fact, Enola feels like a Mary Sue, indelibly perfect, with only two flaws to her character. She is Sherlock in a female body which makes the entire film feel like a poorly written fanfiction rather than something smart and new with something to say. The reason I say this is obvious as the movie progresses.

According to tvtropes.org a Mary Sue is defined as “talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing” as is the case with Enola. The only flaws I could see were her inability to master a specific jujitsu move and, I suppose, her emotionality could be considered a flaw. Sherlock certainly sees it as one and always has. Furthermore, it states that if “any character doesn’t love her, that character gets an extremely unsympathetic portrayal.”

Which brings me to Mycroft Holmes’ portrayal. Clafin is not the first person I would’ve chosen to portray Mycroft. In fact, I’d be remiss to point out that, honestly, Clafin and Cavill should’ve been switched with Clafin inhabiting the role of Sherlock. Clafin did well with what he got, but his Mycroft Holmes is not the Mycroft Holmes we’ve become familiar with and it rubbed me the wrong way. To put it bluntly, Mycroft is an ass who is only worried about the advancement of his career and his status as a government man. This is not at all what I’ve imagined of him and this portrayal is not in line with what we’ve seen in other adaptations. It’s almost as if he’s been given an unsympathetic portrayal, obvious because he is the only character who blatantly hates Enola.

Also, the Conan Doyle Estate, in my humble opinion, has no grounds for their lawsuit against Netflix over this film because Cavill is about as emotional as a ton of bricks. His Sherlock is so wooden, and I’m sorry, I don’t care how sharp and smart Enola is, no one outwits Sherlock unless her name is Irene Adler. Another hint in the long line of hints that Enola is nothing more than a generic Mary Sue, elevated in status simply because of Brown and the fact she is a Holmes child.

Springer attempts to tell the audience that Enola is a modern woman for a fast-approaching modern London but all of that is undermined by the appearance of Tewksbury. With Tewksbury in the picture, Enola feels even less of a fully-fledged character and even more like a generic sixteen-year-old, which isn’t a bad thing, save for the fact she’s a Holmes child and is meant to be “special.” Springer has been telling us the entire time that she’s special, but against Tewksbury, who has an actual purpose in the movie, she falls flat. And if there is going to be a sequel to the film, I think we all know how Tewksbury and Enola’s relationship is going to progress, which, again, just reminds me of Anne of Green Gables only less compelling.

The film does try to give the audience a feminist story about being a woman and following your own path and being whoever you want to be. I will say that is a good lesson for all the young women who will watch this show. Girls should be taught to be whoever they want to be. Girls should be taught to forge their own paths and follow their own dreams whether that dream is to learn jujitsu and be an independent woman or learn to do needlepoint and get married and have kids. However, that is not exactly all the film tried to teach. In fact, while Enola Holmes does well with the empowerment of girls who are like Enola or Eudoria, it does the opposite for girls who want a quiet life and who want to do needlepoint and get married and have kids. It vilifies girls who want that life. It paints them as severe and heartless and, in my opinion, that’s not what feminism is. I might be wrong, but every woman should have a chance to do what they want and if they want to get married and have kids, we should let them do that and not try to villainize them. That is their path.

As for Brown, I will give her kudos because she manages to carry this film on her capable shoulders, but we all knew she could. After three seasons on Stranger Things and carrying most of the emotional weight from the get-go, there’s no denying she is a young actress who is going places. The only problem is, the film didn’t give her anything of substance to chew on. Yes, Enola is charming. Yes, Brown plays her with fire and wit. Yes, Brown did well with she was given, but I wish she could’ve done more and showed us more of what she’s capable of. Unfortunately, Springer’s script wasn’t the substantial boost Brown needed to cut her teeth on bigger things. However, the film is a good stepping stone for more starring roles because Enola Holmes just proves that she doesn’t need help and can shoulder a starring role on her own.

Sadly, Enola Holmes doesn’t hold up because it borrows too much from far greater source material and rests an entire two-hour film on the slender shoulders of a Mary Sue with very little substance. I would’ve preferred to watch an entire movie about Eudoria or even Eudoria’s friend, Edith, than what we were given here.

Shelby Arnold
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