Netflix has given women a voice in its latest adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes.
There have been countless versions of the much loved novels, both Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch have played the iconic role of Sherlock Holmes, and in one adaptation Lucy Liu played sidekick John Watson for TV series Elementary, where the name was changed to Joan Watson.
However, in Netflix’s new mystery and part-comedy, Enola Holmes staring ‘Stranger Things’ actress Millie Bobby Brown as Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’ much younger sister, breaks new-ground in female representation never seen in Doyle’s novels.
The film begins with a fast-paced introduction of the stories two main characters, Elona Holmes a headstrong 16-year-old girl, and her eccentric and rule-breaking mother Eudoria played by Helena Bonham Carter, who do not appear in Doyle’s original novels. It is during this time that Enola breaks the fourth wall – a classic cinematic technique, used for a central character to have an ‘assumed conversation’ with the audience.
During the introduction the audience is shown Enola’s upbringing, where she was home-schooled by her mother and taught jiu jitsu chemistry, reading, tennis, archery, and taught ‘word games’ which were uncommon activities for women during the Victorian era.
The movie centres, on the mysterious disappearance of Elona’s mother and she is left in the ward of her older brother Mycroft who intends to send her to a strict finishing-school so Enola can learn how to ‘be a lady’. Enola quickly taps into everything she’s been taught leaving the family home and sets out to find her mother.
On her way to London, Enola meets a rather arrogant Viscount Tewkesbury played by Louis Partridge, who is on the run from his aristocratic family – unaware of the assassin that has been sent to kill him. It is Enola who notices the hitman and saves the Viscount from near-death, despite her intention to walk away on advice previously given by her mother. However, it appears that Enola, like her older brother Sherlock feels a sense of responsibility to those in need.
In an interesting twist, it’s the Viscount who is portrayed as the ‘damsel in distress’ throughout the movie, while Enola proves herself intelligent and a worthy opponent in combat.
What is also interesting to point out, is that while Mycroft finds her behaviour unladylike – a normative stance considering the era, the Viscount finds it an attractive trait which would make him progressive for the time, and it says a lot about his character.
The film cleverly disguises the disappearance of Elona’s mother as the focal point, however it truly revolves around feminism, addressing the suffragette movement and allowing women the vote. Plus we get to meet some real powerhouse ladies, including Jiu Jitsu master and suggragette Edith, portrayed by Susie Wokoma.
We also meet, the strict and hopeless romantic finishing-school headmistress, Miss Harrison portrayed by Fiona Shaw and the woman who started it all, Eudoria Holmes.
Eudoria appears throughout the film mostly in flashbacks however, we do finally get a first look at the woman who raised three of the smartest children the 19th century had to offer. Enola explains early on that she doesn’t remember her father, so it appears he may have died while she was an infant leaving Eudoria as a single mother.
Unfortunately, in the past female characters have never been given a shining light in Sherlock Holmes adaptations, there are three female characters who consistentry show up, Sherlock Holmes’ femme fatale lover Irene Adler, John Watson’s wife Mary and brownstone housekeep Mrs Hudson. However, these characters tend to lack personality, and are very rarely seen on screen, even in more modern adaptations these three women are still background characters and are never quite ‘full-formed’.
Enola Holmes does what it needs to do, it brings women to the forefront of history during the suffragette movement, demonstrating the power of the vote, while showcasing the strength women hold in a male-dominant society.