Movie Review: “Enola Holmes” Addresses Feminism by Revisiting Victorian England

Focusing on themes of individuality, social progress, and rebellion, “Enola Holmes” is a poignantly modern film with a profoundly relatable message. Its characters are bound by strict societal norms in a world that vehemently (and, at times, violently) opposes progress. They fight oppressive societal structures while navigating their world and uncovering their own identities. Directed by Harry Bradbeer and based on Nancy Springer’s series of young adult mystery books, Netflix released “Enola Holmes” on September 23, 2020. Set in Victorian England, the film follows the journey of Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), the unconventional and charismatic younger sister of Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), as she searches for her mother. Caution: there are spoilers in the next few paragraphs!

A key aspect of Enola’s character is feminism: she defies gender roles, combats the patriarchy, and establishes herself as an influential woman. Moreover, she is not the quintessential Victorian heroine. Within the first ten minutes of the film, she falls off her bike into a puddle of mud. Soon after, she plays tennis indoors with her mother and tallies the points on the walls. She faces henchmen in combat and more often than not, emerges victorious. Moreover—and by far the most disturbing—she can’t even embroider! At the end of the film, her mother, Eudoria Holmes (Helena Bonham-Carter), touched by her contributions to voting rights, remarks to her: “What a woman you’ve become.”

Another standout aspect of “Enola Holmes” is its refreshing portrayal of the friendship between Enola and Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). Their friendship, though predictable, defies young adult genre norms when the film explores the characters’ arcs without forcing a romance. At one point, Enola grieves the loss of her friend, thinking he is dead. Though Tewkesbury survives, his “death” subverts the familiar trope of killing off a female character to further the plot. This moment feeds into the larger theme of independence; the character Enola Holmes is fiercely unconventional, and so is the film itself. 

“Enola Holmes” emphasizes present-day issues through a historical lens. By focusing on Enola rather than Sherlock, the film highlights its feminist and activist undertones. Throughout the film, Enola rebukes her older brother, Mycroft (Sam Claflin), for his reductive views on women. By correcting him, she evokes modern feminist imagery.

Despite its abundance of positive attributes, the film’s sole weakness is the way it alludes to the Suffragette movement without exploring its impact on the story. At one point in the film, an entire Suffragette plotline is never explored beyond serving as a plot MacGuffin: Enola discovers a warehouse that her mother has filled with explosives and women’s rights pamphlets. She remarks with unease: “Mycroft was right. You are dangerous.” Enola lights the explosives during a fight scene, and her mother gives a vague “it wasn’t safe” to explain why she left.

 In the last shot of the film, the camera pans up to the crowded London skyline. With a bright blue horizon and billowing black smoke, the film leaves the viewer with a strong sense of hope. However, the smog and jutting chimneys hint at a subtle unease. Beneath the peppy soundtrack and loveable character, there is an invocation to fight: not only for ourselves, but also for the rights of others.

This film receives 4.5/5 stars for its relatability, genre-bending characteristics, and its reflection of modern society.