'The game is afoot'
Popular cinema of this millennium is exasperatingly dictated by sequels, prequels and spinoffs. The world certainly didn’t need another Sherlock Holmes movie already, but here we are. Enola Holmes, a Netflix film based on Nancy Springer’s fan fiction series about a fictitious teenage sister of the famous detective, was released on Wednesday, September 23, to mixed reviews. The sleuthing may have been sloppy throughout this two hour film, but the feminist issues of late 19th century England pronounced here touch a chord, especially with women who are still rebelling for those same rights.
Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) radiates with charisma as the youngest Holmes, who finds on her 16th birthday that their mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), no less eccentric than her children (Mycroft, Sherlock and Enola), disappeared, albeit not without a trace. A lover of ciphers, she left bread crumbs for Enola to trail. Mycroft (Sam Claflin), a mere caricature of the original character, wastes no time in involuntarily committing her to an “institution” where young girls learn ladylike skills such as embroidering, table manners and other formal etiquette, making up for her unorthodox upbringing at the hands of a whimsical mother.
In her quest to find Eudoria and escape the clutches of Mycroft, Enola becomes entangled with another runaway teenager, Lord Viscount Tewksbury, also trying to escape a life chalked out for him by high society. He is refreshingly feminine; he collects pressed flowers, cooks as a hobby and isn’t afraid to cry in front of the leading lady. Straight from their precarious meet-cute on a train, the film does a laudable job of not morphing into an icky love story. Negating such age-old tropes seem to be at the top of Enola Holmes’ agendas, which also meticulously checks all of the diversity boxes with an Inspector Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) of South Asian descent, a black jiu-jitsu instructor and several foils of all colours.
At the core of director Harry Bradbeer’s (Fleabag) film is the dysfunctional Holmes clan trying not to accidentally annihilate one another. Eudoria is game to use violence if the Reform Act isn’t passed by the government for which Mycroft works. Mycroft is apathetic about whether his prescribed education breaks Enola’s spirits as long as it upholds the family name. Sherlock (Henry Cavill) remains aloof for the longest time as though he would rather be solving a worthy case than interfering with his brother’s plans for his Ward.
Enola speaks to the audience breaking the fourth wall, a little too often, being her own Watson, documenting the case as she solves it. She borrows one of Sherlock’s famous quotes- “The game is afoot” - at the beginning, dons several disguises, but refrains from evoking further Sherlock references, much to the dismay of fans. The mother-daughter duo outshines the celebrated brothers with their wit. Simple acts like using a corset as a shield or a boiling tea pot as a makeshift weapon, turn the tyrannised women into heroes.
Victorian England, unlike some less fortunate nations, has come a long way since the time of the Holmes. So, starting a conversation about women’s rights, and independence in that context might not be one of this film’s triumphs. Maybe Enola’s earnest attempts at changing a stubborn patriarchal society will only work towards making an otherwise bland film relatable. Worst case scenario, with studios fumbling for views, Enola Holmes, if successful, might sprout a host of fictitious relatives of popular characters in its wake.