'Enola Holmes' review: a feminism 101, but flawed
Enola Holmes, a Netflix original released this September, garnered much attention for its captivating tale about the journey of Enola, sister of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, and how she comes to outplay her brother.
On the surface, Enola Holmes provides a seemingly feminist pitch into the Holmesverse. But, with a deeper look, the film provides an idealistic—and perhaps empty—look into the journey of the “not-like-other-girls” protagonist Enola Holmes, and how she magically outsmarts the fictional character who for a century has dominated pop-detective culture, Sherlock Holmes, through solving word puzzles.
Many Sherlock fans responded in rage to the movie’s depiction of Holmes. Initially drawn to the movie by its mentioning of Holmes in the title, fans were left disappointed by the movie’s lack of appreciation for this famous detective, who served as nothing but a foil for the female protagonist in the film. Sherlock’s wit and charisma of being famously “indifferent and aloof” were lost in the movie’s attempt to put forth Enola as someone who outsmarts the rest.
The comment from Alistair Ryder, a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic, sums up the feelings of many Holmes fan: “Enola Holmes doesn't feel like fan fiction so much as it feels like the work of someone who lifted universally famous characters for their own story, without so much as considering the characteristics that have made them so enduring for centuries.” It was also revealed that this June, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is suing Netflix for copyright infringement, the reason being the film’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes contradicts the originally indifferent and aloof character created by the book.
This is a feminist movie after all, you may say, why focus on discussing Sherlock Holmes if we are going to tell the tale of a female protagonist. Indeed, in terms of maximizing the social media attraction brought by a movie with a badass woman protagonist, Enola Holmes did do its job. Branding itself feminist, the movie has since produced many quotes and snapshots on Instagram and Snapchat, highlighting issues from the equality movement.
Yet, it fails to escape the fate of an oversimplified narrative with polarized characters. On the one side, there’s the self-centered, privileged Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s brother), the traditionally-minded girls’ school teacher Miss Harrison, the killer who tries to murder parliamentarians who are going to vote for women’s suffrage. On the other side, we have fearless Enola, the young and progressive Viscount Tewkesbury, and the famous Sherlock Holmes who watches on the sidelines and ultimately came to become slightly more supportive of Enola. Perhaps the only twist here: Tewkesbery’s grandmother, a woman who does not support women’s suffrage — but is this really a surprise? Compared to fellow Netflix shows (Queen’s Gambit), Enola Holmes does not contain any characters worth looking at. It divides the women in half, those who become housewives, and those who fight for jobs. The lack of middle ground and in-depth interpretation for feminism narrows the public’s perception of a feminist to only those who appear feisty and “boyish.”
The narrative of the invincible Miss Holmes does not provide any real insight into the challenges women face in society and their different experiences, which are complicated by class, race, experience, and character. This is not to mention, the unrealistic story of a young woman roaming in the streets of 19th century London alone.
Enola Holmes, in a lot of ways, contributes to this same old idea that believing in feminism can solve anything, whereas in reality gender involves a much more nuanced discussion. The only noteworthy part of this film is perhaps its outstanding cast. The Millie Bobby Brown magic, with the addition of Sam Claflin and Helena Bonham Carter, certainly makes the film an entertaining holiday pick. But in terms of substance, Enola Holmes does not live up to the expectation of a feminist movie.