I’d never heard of Enola Holmes, the youngest of the Holmes siblings until days before I was headed to London way back in August 2019 to visit the set of the recently released Netflix film of the same name. But as an avid mystery lover (and solver, thank you), I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a younger, smarter, and female Holmes sibling. So I grabbed a copy of Nancy Springer’s first Enola Holmes novel to read on the plane. When star Millie Bobby Brown first picked up a copy of the book she was immediately struck by it.
“I read something and then immediately want to do it the next day. And that’s when you know that you have to do it,” she said. “Because when I read Enola, I wanted to do it the next day and it was maybe three years ago that I read it and I was like, ‘Okay, great. I’m going to be Enola tomorrow.’ But my dad was like, ‘You can’t.’ I was like, ‘No, I definitely can,’ and three years later, here we are.”
Here we are indeed staring at a towering mansion an hour outside of London where the Holmes home is set. In Enola Holmes, we find Enola (Brown) trying to solve the mystery of her missing mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) after she wakes up on her 16th birthday shocked by her disappearance. Enola now must navigate life as a young lady in the 1800s all alone (Enola spelled backwards). She finds it difficult.
“I think that it’s such a difficult period because youth, and women in general, were definitely not priority and definitely not listened to,” Brown explained. “So in 2019, being a teen, it can be difficult because there are people that don’t take you seriously, not anything to do with who I am as a person, just my age. Then also that happens in the 1800s with Enola as well. But that’s what I say when I say we share a lot of similarities. I bite back and I want my voice to be heard and so does Enola.”
That’s where the more famous Holmes comes in. When Eudoria goes missing, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) return to the mansion to figure to find a house in disarray and Enola’s “education” completely different from what they had presumed. Apparently, her mother wasn’t adhering to the standards of… well, anything. Enola was raised solely by her mother which means her brothers are practically strangers. Both brothers are concerned with her well-being but they have very different meanings of what that is. For Mycroft, it’s strict schooling and very little freedom. Sherlock has a different perspective according to Cavill.
“He’s more about Enola being her true self, not anything else,” he explained. “It’s not a deliberate move of female empowerment from Sherlock’s point of view. It’s just about him loving Enola and allowing her to be the fullest, most, whole person that she can be that’s true to herself. That’s what Sherlock cares about. And he just has that deep-seated, emotional connection to both Eudoria and Enola, which he doesn’t have with the rest of the world.”
Sherlock may be the more famous sibling but Enola Holmes is truly a story about Enola, Cavill emphasized.
“This was about supporting the journey of Enola and allowing the audience to feel what they need to feel on that journey so it’s a more powerful experience for them,” he said.
One of Mycroft’s solutions as the “man of the house” is Ms. Williams (Fiona Shaw), a teacher meant to get Enola in line and a woman very much a product of the 19th century: OK with the status quo.
“Ms. Harrison is entirely conservative, doesn’t want to change anything, but is still very self-defining by running a school, but I think it’s the battle between all generations, isn’t it? That young people have to kick against the thing that the older generation believed they had fought for,” Shaw explained.
For Shaw, this tension is seen throughout the film. The tug between those who want change and those who aren’t ready for it. Cavill saw the same parallels.
“[Change] should be a good thing rather than a painful, negative thing, and what they’ve done so wonderfully with Enola is that,” he noted.
That is part of why now is the time to tell the Holmes story from Enola’s point of view. Why? Because it hasn’t been told this way before. And change is good.
“It is always the right time to tell the story,” said Shaw. “It’s only now being allowed to be told. I don’t think it’s any more now than any other time. I think it’s breathtaking that there haven’t been more films about girls coming of age in the last 30 years, but there hasn’t but here, now they are making it.”
Young people are our future and nothing has reminded us of that more than 2020. It’s time for the status quo to shift. There’s a new Holmes in town.
“It’s a great time to be a woman and it’s a great time to be a girl because now we can actually… We can talk about things, and I think we wanted to just add some things in the script that can actually empower young people and girls and women as much as everyone else,” said Brown. “I wanted to do Enola because I didn’t have a lead female British icon when I was a child. I had Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez, I never had a British female lead. I had Hermione, but she was never a lead and I wondered why. Why couldn’t there be one? And Enola is my icon now so that’s cool.”
Enola Holmes is now streaming on Netflix.