Enola Holmes is a Netflix film based on the series of books by Nancy Springer which introduces us to a new character – the younger sister of London’s most famous consulting detective.
As a film it ticks so many of my boxes. Late Victorian setting, feisty heroine, Women’s Rights, it’s all there. And Millie Bobby Brown is just perfect as the titular heroine. Funny, engaging and often awkward, she encapsulates what it feels like to be a sixteen year old girl finding her place in the world. Every costume change is a delight. And there are a lot of them as Enola rattles through a large number of disguises throughout the course of the book. Brown is eminently capable of convincingly passing as a working class young boy or an elegant, refined lady as the necessity takes her. Her best look is the one that’s all her – a rationally dressed young Victorian woman on a bicycle.
However (and this is a big however, huge), the central plot of this film is absolute nonsense.
The audience is expected to accept that a major (although mostly absent) character, Enola’s mother has gone about achieving her aims in literally the most stupid and counter-productive way possible.
Eudoria Holmes (played by Helena Bonham Carter) disappears from her and Enola’s family home in the middle of the night without warning and seemingly without trace. It is clear early on that there’s no foul play afoot and Eudoria has left of her own volition.
It transpires that she is off fighting for truth, justice and female suffrage which is fair enough. But why vanish with no warning? She tells Enola that it was to keep her safe, but in fact it achieves exactly the opposite.
Despite being an unnecessary cruel action to take towards your dependent teenage daughter, her dramatic sneaking-off ensures that the maximum amount of attention is drawn to her disappearance. Enola immediately – and understandably – summons the assistance of her two older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock. The two brothers have hitherto shown no interest in their mother and sister’s lives and their arrival at the house opens up cans of family worms which really didn’t need to be opened.
The only clues that Enola has to her mother’s motivations are in a series of cryptic clues that she has left behind.
I get that codes, cyphers and anagrams are the linchpin of the Enola Holmes universe, but why the fuck has Eudoria chosen to use them here?
Up until the night of her disappearance, Enola and her mother have lived together in a sprawly Victorian Country pile where the only other occupant was their sympathetic and trustworthy housekeeper, Mrs Lane. It’s not like they’re lacking in privacy.
Instead of twatting about leaving secret messages in chrysanthemums, Enola’s mum could have simply sat her down before her departure and explained what was what.
“Look Enola, I’m going to bugger off now. Here’s a big wodge of money. Don’t mention it to your brothers. They haven’t visited the house in fourteen years so it’s not like they’re going to notice. If I need to be in touch I’ll do so through the personal column of the Times using this specific cypher which I am going to explain to you right now.”
There, job done. No risk of Enola being carted off to an oppressive finishing school and no danger of Eudoria’s oh-so-secret plans being exposed given that Enola, in this scenario, wouldn’t have had to hare round London asking a whole bunch of questions and drawing attention to the situation.
Enola would have had all the time she needed (years if she’d wanted) to stay in her familiar home, spend Mycroft’s money and work out what exciting things she wanted to do with her life.
And yes, I appreciate if things that had panned out that way, the film would be a lot less interesting. But ‘there wouldn’t have been much of a plot otherwise’ is a stupid justification for arbitrarily nonsensical character decisions.
Having got that particular rant out of my system, I do want to reiterate that I rather enjoyed watching Enola Holmes and I will no doubt tune in for the inevitable follow-ups. I hope they develop Sherlock Holmes’ character a bit more though. I appreciate that his role here was to be overshadowed by his brilliant little sister but it would have been nice to see just a bit of Sherlock’s renowned genius here.
I love Sherlock Holmes and I have never yet seen a film or television adaptation of the character that does justice the book version. Henry Cavill’s vague, milksoppy ineffectual Holmes really isn’t it.
Enola herself is rather wonderful though and I would be quite happy to watch more of her adventures.