Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 29, 2020

Millie Bobby Brown outsmarts and outshines Sherlock Holmes in Netflix film

By ELIZABETH IM | October 1, 2020

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GAGE SKIDMORE / CC BY-SA

Millie Bobby Brown stars in Enola Holmes, a Netflix film based on the book series of the same name.

It’s 1884. Enola Holmes lives happily with her eccentric mother, far from society and its norms for women, but on the morning of her 16th birthday, she discovers that her mother is gone. The disappearance of her mother reunites Enola with her older brothers, Sherlock (yes, the detective) and Mycroft, who have both been long absent from her life. They barely recognize her. 

Mycroft is furious that their mother did not use the money he sent to “properly” raise Enola (I mean, my, what would a girl do if she couldn’t do embroidery?). Mycroft decides to send Enola to Miss Harrison’s Finishing School, and Enola decides to run away with the money her mother secretly left for her. Just as Enola’s plan to find her mother seems to be going well, Enola is swept into saving a boy, the soon-to-be-Lord Tewksbury, from getting murdered, and she derails from her plan.

Based on Nancy Springer’s book series of the same title, the new Netflix movie Enola Holmes brings its own spark to the screen while keeping the best parts of the original novel: its whimsical characters and a strong moral message.

Enola Holmes would be better described as a coming-of-age action film rather than a mystery-crime one. While Enola runs away from her brothers, tries to keep Lord Tewksbury alive and continues to look for her mother, the important part is that she experiences the outside world and realizes her true potential. By the end of the movie, Enola is not a little girl. She is an independent, strong woman who can outsmart even the famous Sherlock Holmes. 

While the detective elements were entertaining, the vibrant Victorian era props, multiple combat scenes and the interactive narration (at one point, Enola even breaks the fourth wall to ask the audience for advice) were what really kept the movie going. In fact it was easy to be distracted by the rapid on-screen action and forget about Lord Tewksbury’s murderer or the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. 

What the movie highlighted even more than the action scenes, however, was the women’s right movement, which plays a central role in solving the mystery. Although the movie is set in 1884 and women did not actually earn the right to vote in the U.K. until 1918, Harry Bradbeer, the director, shared that he wanted to “bring that [event] forward.” By integrating the importance of fighting for social justice, Bradbeer hoped that the movie would become something more than just its plot. 

As Enola’s mother says in the film, there are two paths in life: one others decide for you and the other your own. While Enola Holmes has plenty of suspense and fun, it is also about being proactive in shaping your future and being cognizant of the current world. As Edith — tea shop owner by day, suffragette by night — criticized Sherlock for being blind to injustice, or as Enola’s mother explained that she disappeared to fight for a better future for women, the movie continually sends the message that it is on each of us to stand up against unfair social constructs.

Before watching the movie, the cast list was what initially caught my eyes (Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Fiona Shaw and so on). It’s an impressive list. Interestingly the movie kept its entire focus on one character, Enola, played by Brown. It did this to the extent that Bilge Ebiri, a journalist for New York magazine and Vulture, lamented that Cavill “isn't really given anything meaningful to do... and it’s kind of funny." 

I was disappointed to see the rest of the cast stand on the sidelines, sometimes more like stage props. However Brown’s passionate acting and the director’s choice of dynamic narration was enough to keep the movie interesting and, importantly, effective. After all, it was Brown’s vision to create the movie; she had come up with the very idea of making the film adaptation and later co-produced it. Although it was slightly sad to see less of the others, there was no lack of presence on screen, thanks to Brown’s impressive embodiment of Enola and the other actors’ short but impactful appearances. Also, according to some speculations, there may be more character development for the rest of the cast in the potentially forthcoming sequels. So, there’s hope! 

The overall plot of Enola Holmes is one we often see in a Hollywood blockbuster. However, it was uniquely charming because of the exceptional cast, the screen aesthetic and the director’s choice to break the fourth wall (which Bradbeer has done in Fleabag as well). The movie’s constant and conscious effort to weave moral messages into the story is applaudable and effective as well. Enola Holmes is definitely worth watching, and I look forward to the sequels.

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