Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is both a funny and progressive retelling of a familiar story

Millie Bobby Brown starring as Enola Holmes in Netflix's "Enola Holmes" draws a bow and arrow in side a Victorian house.
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Netflix’s newest addition to its original movie collection, “Enola Holmes,” is a story based on Nancy Springer’s novels of the same title. This story exists in the world of the age-old character Sherlock Holmes but now takes a look at the lives of his mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), and genius sister, Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), in a fun and nuanced way. 

Although Enola and her mother have to deal with the shadow Sherlock’s (Henry Cavill) reputation casts on them, these strong female characters do an impressive job of distinguishing themselves from the overtold story of their brother and son by being confident and full of personality. The best scenes were the ones with Enola showing the funnier yet intelligent side of her character. These characters not only prove to be well written and witty, but also seem to have an elevated understanding of the world not held by male characters, with lines such as, “Paint your own picture, Enola. Don’t be thrown off course by other people. Especially men.” In essence, this is the story of a smart young woman navigating a world that is set against her.

Before watching the film, I was a bit cautious about how it would be done, considering Netflix’s track record in movies; after all, “The Kissing Booth” (and its sequel) and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” (and its sequel as well) don’t exactly get my hopes up for how well Netflix can write female-driven plots. This is to say that “Enola Holmes” actually surprised me. I partially expected it to be just another Sherlock Holmes movie, except with Millie Bobby Brown, yet I found that it had good writing, excellent characterization and important themes. 

Taking the path set by the men around you and instead doing what you are passionate about is a prominent theme sprinkled throughout the film. Scenes such as Enola outsmarting her brothers and fighting men much older than her work to prove her intelligence and skill and send home the message that, even though the people around her expect little of her because of her gender, she is more independent and astute than credited. This theme is also represented in real life. As lead actress and star of critically acclaimed “Stranger Things,” Millie Bobby Brown actually helped produce the film alongside her older sister after having read the series and being inspired to play the role. 

The main plot revolves around the mother-daughter relationship between Eudoria and  Enola. On Enola’s 16th birthday, her mother disappears with only a few clues left behind that are addressed to her daughter. Against the wishes of her strict older brothers, she runs away to find their mother. While choosing to pursue her mother, she crosses paths with possibly the most British-named man ever, Lord Viscount Tewksbury (Louis Partridge). This creates a whole new storyline where she must investigate why someone has been sent to kill the lord and leads to a romantic subplot. 

Throughout the film, Enola faces conflict with her two brothers, namely Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin), who seems to see Enola as more of a potential problem as opposed to a sister from the first second of meeting her. He plays one of the main antagonists that impedes Enola’s journey to track down her mother by insisting that Enola be sent to finish school for formal education. This was based on his desire to maintain his social standing and his immense hatred for women. 

Seriously, every scene with Mycroft includes him either insulting his sister or just being outright mean and unreasonable to anyone. One of his lines is, “Reform. God help us. If there’s one thing this country doesn’t need, it’s more uneducated voters,” so it’s established very clearly that he is elitist and close-minded. It was a good detail to make Mycroft so outwardly antagonistic because when Enola escapes him flawlessly (not just once but several times) it’s very satisfying and reinforces the confidence portrayed by the women in this film. 

On the other hand, there are valid criticisms of this adaptation such as how the film (like most Netflix originals) seems to have an element that is a little too cliche. There were a handful of jokes that added nothing to the movie and would have been better left out, and some of the characters were made to be somewhat static in order to uphold the messages of the film. 

Also, some would argue that the film invalidated its own message by having a romantic subplot for the main character which diverted her from her previous goals, thus changing her path in life for a man. However, he seemed less malicious and more ignorant, and in his character she saw a path she could craft for herself in saving him and remaining free of finishing school, rather than a path laid out by her mother. In doing so, she stayed true to the message of the film. 

All in all, what the film lacked in originality, it made up for in humor and character writing. As a woman, I resonate strongly with the messages of how women should be able to pursue their interests and passions regardless of men’s standards.

Design showing the title of the film, "Enola Holmes," along with a two hour and three minute runtime, genres of drama, adventure and crime, a PG-13 rating, Sept. 23, 2020 release date and four-star review.