What are the strengths of the new Netflix movie, Enola Holmes? And what are the biggest weaknesses? Here is a brief discussion without spoilers!
As people who read us know, a new film inspired by the series of stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Arthur Conan Doyle. We are obviously talking about Enola Holmes, directed by Harry Bradbeer and star of most of the film reviews in recent days.
It is a film inspired by a series of children's books, The Enola Holmes Mysteries, written by Nancy Springer, all centered around the figure and adventures of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes' fourteen year old sister, Enola.
This one you are reading will not be exactly a review, but a series of my impressions of the film and what I believe to be its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, this article will be WITHOUT SPOILER.
The plot of Enola Holmes in short (and without spoilers)
Enola Holmes follows the adventures of its namesake protagonist. After the death of her father and the departure of her brothers, Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill), much older than her, Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) was raised by her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). In the solitude of their country villa, Eudoria instructed Enola in a very peculiar way, leaving out the classic label and embroidery lessons to focus on philosophy, literature, science, jujitsu and a wide range of strategy games and anagrams.
However, on Enola's sixteenth birthday, Eudoria disappears. Upon Mycroft and Sherlock's emergency return, Enola realizes that her siblings are practically strangers to her. What if Sherlock, while remaining emotionally unable to show affection, appreciates his sister's intelligence, mycroft she fears that her unconventional upbringing could be a problem, so he decides to send her to a boarding school for girls. Thus, Enola realizes that she is probably the only person capable of (and willing to) find her mother, and decides to flee to London.
During the journey, Enola finds herself helping a young noble, the viscount Tewkesbury, in turn escaped from his family, and chased by a hitman. Just as Enola is well versed in fields anything but feminine, Tewkesbury is interested in subjects that are not conventionally masculine, by the standards of the time, namely botany and flowers.
In London, Enola must try to juggle the challenge of finding her mother, who is apparently linked to the suffragette movement, and help Tewkesbury survive by discovering the assassin's instigator. And, in the meantime, our protagonist will have to try to escape from Mycroft and Sherlock, who are on her trail.
What works in Enola Holmes
Just as the book series is designed for a young audience, the film was also written for young viewers. Enola Holmes it is a film without excessive ambitions, but which tries to put a certain care in its plot and in the themes it deals with.
In my opinion, Enola Holmes it works in the way it treats, in general, the theme of oppression and forced social pigeonholing.
The oppression and the privilege of not having to take an interest in politics
Although the film does not go into the details of the oppression of different social strata during the Victorian era, it does offer an extremely current little gem, in the scene where Sherlock confronts one of his mother's friends. Edith. Edith is a black woman who runs a tea room, which acts as a facade for a secret jujitsu gym for women. In her exchange with Sherlock, Edith tries to make him reflect on why for her and Eudoria the struggle for the conquest of women's rights is so important, inviting him not to call it a "crime".
In fact, Sherlock has no way of fully understanding Eudoria and Edith's motives, as he doesn't know what it means to be completely powerless. And precisely because Sherlock is not without power, he has the privilege of being able to disinterest in politics. Indeed, only those with a privileged place in society can afford to ignore politics, as it has no reason to change the status quo.
Of this exchange, in which Edith expresses the concept of privilege very well, perhaps the most surprising part is Sherlock's reaction. Because Sherlock takes the time to reflect on Edith's words, without getting lost in an instinctive defense of the status quo. And this, in my opinion, is an example of humility and intellectual honesty that many people (and not just men) should follow when it comes to oppression.
The social classification of men and women
Another aspect that Enola Holmes treats well is how Victorian society imposed precise social and gender roles on its citizens. In fact, as we are told several times during the film, there are very specific ways to be "decent" men and women, accepted by the company. In this sense, the entire educational system to which the youngest are subjected is aimed at molding their people into what society deems appropriate.
The film focuses above all on the rigid gender role imposed on women, as it focuses on the contrast between who Enola really is and what society would want for her. However, we also see some space devoted to how Tewkesbury does not conform to the Victorian male gender role. In fact, both Enola and Tewkesbury have interests and aspirations that diverge from the life their more conservative relatives have planned for them. The luck of the two boys was to have at least one parent who left them free to express themselves and who shared their "strange" interests.
What doesn't work in Enola Holmes
Unfortunately, Enola Holmes it suffers from a number of technical problems that make it less enjoyable than expected.
I will not stay here to dwell on plot excessively complex and convoluted, or on the choice of breaking the fourth wall to Enola, which therefore often addresses the public directly. The first is a problem that undermines the rhythm of the narrative, while the second undermines to shatter the metaphorical gonads of the viewer. Of course, the breaking of the fourth wall may not be a problem for many spectators and in some ways it is not even for me. However, over the course of the two hours of the film, I eventually found this narrative technique heavy.
What I would like to focus on is something else and it always concerns the social issues dealt with by Enola Holmes.
The problem of calling what was not oppressive oppressive: leave the corsets alone
An irritating habit that today's movies have taken is toexaggerate the oppressive nature of certain aspects of women's daily life of past centuries. Although, in fact, women, non-white people, disabled people, and non-heterosexual / cisgender people were actually systematically oppressed, this oppression did not always have the modalities presented by films such as Enola Holmes.
In particular, I find it wrong that to describe female oppression one focuses on issues that, historically, were not a tool of oppression. I am, of course, talking about the corset.
Cinema has accustomed us to seeing the corset as an instrument of torture for women, such as to take their breath away and deform the ribcage. Yes, we're all thinking about the scene from Pirates of the Caribbean in which Elizabeth passes out. And although historically there were people who exaggerated the use of corsets, generally this piece of clothing was not a constricting prison. Conversely, the corset can be considered as a historical counterpart to the bra, since it was meant for provide support for the female torso. And being generally tailored to the woman who wore it, the corset was not uncomfortable.
Additionally, corsets were generally not worn to compress the waist down to a tiny circumference, in what is generally referred to as tightlacing. On the contrary, the tightlacing it was such an extreme and uncommon practice, but of great visual impact, that it has remained in history as a standard representation of the bodice because of its particularity. For those wishing to know more, I leave you this e this video.
In that sense, I personally find it now very irritating that movies like Enola Holmes perpetuate this false historian. In fact, not only does this create disinformation, but it places the emphasis on an aspect of the time that was not oppressive towards women, thus giving a distorted image of how female oppression actually worked.
Some concluding words about the film
In short, ultimately, Enola Holmes I liked it. He lets himself be looked at, proposes interesting themes and in the end he manages to do his job well, that is to entertain.
I found all the characters generally pleasing, although I do regret seeing Miss Harrison's character treated a little too much as a comic relief. The actors, in my opinion, did a good job too, although Henry Cavill is very strange to see as Sherlock. Of course, my estrangement may also be due to the fact that in many scenes her clothes seemed two sizes too tight and ready to fall apart at the first movement too many. Too much tension for my poor little heart.
But there is also to say that Enola Holmes unravels in one too dispersed and chaotic plot, which would suit the times of a television series better than a movie. From this point of view, the problems in the structure and modality of the narrative are many.
Nevertheless, Enola Holmes it's a film that put me in a good mood and that brings to the stage an interesting protagonist and story. I hope we will see a sequel soon.