It’s Elementary Feminism, My Dear Watson

Enola Holmes Is Introductory Empowerment


Netflix’s new franchise is somewhat charming feminism 101, if you get past Sherlock as Bro-zilla.

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Henry Cavill is not Sherlock Holmes.

Beyond whatever Enola Holmes gets right (a decent amount) or wrong (a frustrating list), no version of Sherlock should appear as though the only mystery he’s never solved is finding a suit that fits over all them muscles. You take that chin dimple back to Superman-land, Hank. Sherlock is for goofy weirdos and not human protein shakes.

Starting with a supporting dudebro character is actually quite fitting for Enola Holmes, a film that feels like it was crafted by well-intended fellas who just discovered that feminism is “a whole thing!” Writer Jack Thorne and director Harry Bradbeer may have been working from a book written by a woman (Nancy Springer), but you know what helps movies about women feel authentic? Women. Having women write or direct or shoot or edit (or all of those) does that.

The elevator pitch for Enola Holmes almost certainly read something like “a YA version of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies meets Fleabag.” Millie Bobbie Brown plays the titular character, who inconsistently Phoebe-Waller-Bridges the fourth wall, sometimes with an effective literal wink and other times with an audience-supplied groan.

The film follows Enola as she searches for her suddenly absent mother (Helena Bonham Carter), against the wishes of her wretched older brothers: Sherlock, the Instagram model, and Mycroft (Sam Claflin), the sinisterly mustached. Along the way, Enola falls “in flirt” with a runaway viscount (Louis Partridge), dodges death from a near-mute murder enthusiast (Burn Gorman), charms Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) and realizes that, gosh darn it, ladies should be able to do whatever fellas do! Well, white ladies anyway…

Maybe the most glaringly upsetting moment in the generally inoffensive film comes when Edith (Susan Wokoma), a martial arts trainer and the only meaningful black character, chides Sherlock for his reluctance to get involved in politics. She accurately blasts him for his apathy, explaining that he doesn’t get involved because the system is already rigged in his favor. Then she vanishes in a puff of cliches, never to be heard from again.

A lot of Enola Holmes is like that: It seems to want credit for being smarter and savvier than it actually is. Can this be even proto-feminism when our intrepid young protagonist doesn’t accurately solve the mystery at hand? This isn’t a slight on Brown, who is just relentlessly delightful. Watching her performance here is like going on vacation with someone who just genuinely loves every single activity. Really? You even had fun while waiting in line for Space Mountain? Okay… You do you, Millie.

In the end, minus the himbo Sherlock and the whiff on intersectional feminism, Brown forcefully rolls Enola Holmes just over the hump of mediocrity. If young people these days are simply jonesing for jaunty late-Victorian era hijinks, they should be adequately sated. If adult folks are on the hunt for some streaming sleuthery, maybe embrace your age and surrender to the siren song of Miss Marple instead.

Grade = C+

Other Critical Voices to Consider

Sarah Gorr at The Spool thought it was just okay and says “If nothing else, hopefully this is the beginning of Brown exploring her range and we’ll soon see her in something more worthy of her talents.”

Kate Sanchez of But Why Tho? says “While a lot of the ‘girl power’ commentary is hamfisted, it’s not something that I rolled my eyes at like I did in Captain Marvel.”

Danielle Solzman of Solzy at the Movies sees a bright future: “Enola Holmes is every bit the franchise starter that it needs to be.”


Category: Film, Top Story
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