Enola Holmes exists in a difficult place, featuring a new(ish) female character in a story with pre-established heroes. Sherlock Holmes is a household name, and the directors and producers of the story have the unenviable task of both making their new character impressive without depowering the old one.
Enola Holmes lives in a media world forged by The Force Awakens yet succeeds where other films don’t in navigating this obstacle, unlike, say, The Last Jedi.
The fil follows the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. She is raised by her mother, but after her mother disappears, her brothers enter her life. Fleeing from Mycroft, Enola meets the young Viscount Tewkesbury and Marquess of Basilwether. Together they go on a two-fold mystery, one to find Eudoria Holmes, the other to rescue Tewkesbury.
Class and Gender conflict is an essential part of the narrative but exists as a secondary element, not the plot in and of itself. The story is not at all neutral on political matters, but the struggle is placed behind the plot. Yes, the struggle of women to overcome the sexist standards of the time is important, but Enola and the movie spend more time worrying about Tewkesbury. However, these themes are woven wonderfully.
Tewkesbury, like his father, is a reformer, trying to change England by giving the vote to the common man, hence the reason why men are out to kill him. Enola is bucking the societal standards placed on her because they are preventing her from solving her mystery (and because they are ridiculous), hence why Mycroft, who is a traditionalist, is tracking her. So, despite the movie not being political, it still carries with it political themes. In my opinion, it does so well, giving London that Enola finds herself in character. Victorian age London was filled to the brim with political changes, struggles, and revolution. An apolitical Enola Holmes would, to be frank, be boring and historically inaccurate.
Enola is also an interesting character. Her breaking of the fourth wall is an interesting way for the viewer to get inside her thoughts (difficult to accomplish in a film setting). Her explanations as the story went along, besides being funny, are also informative and help prevent the ending from being a Deus Ex Machina.
Setting a mystery in the Sherlock Holmes universe and not making Sherlock your detective is a strong choice. If we learned anything from The Last Jedi, it is that people hate it when you depower their heroes. People love Luke Skywalker, Iron Man, and Sherlock Holmes. Inevitably, people will complain that their old hero should’ve been on the job. Or worse, that their hero has been disrespected in order to tout a Mary Sue. Regardless of your opinion on the matter of Luke Skywalker, people were furious with him and Rey.
Enola Holmes dodges this all together. Enola is a clever young woman, but Sherlock is just as clever as well. When she plants her bike and runs off, Sherlock realizes it is a plant and ignores it. When Enola jumps off of a train, Sherlock pieces together her whereabouts from an article in the newspaper. Enola Holmes’ Sherlock is just as intelligent and clever as the Sherlock Holmes we come to expect from… every other piece of literature with Sherlock Holmes. He isn’t weakened or depowered by the story at the expense of empowering Enola. Arguably, the story makes him more impressive. Despite the fact that he has never even met any of the people involved, Sherlock solves the Tewkesbury case, only Enola solved it first with a great deal more enthusiasm.
Speaking of Enola, she is perfectly cast, played, and written. She is an intelligent you woman, you can’t deny. But she’s headstrong and thinks too much of herself. To avoid questions, she plays dress up as a widow, which makes Tewkesburys like her less. To feel smart in front of Lestrade, she beats him on Sherlock trivia, allowing him to catch her on Mycroft’s behalf. She is a smart character, but not an infallible one.
In the proper detective fashion, the detective is often wrong just as often as they are right. And while Enola does solve the Tewkesbury case, she does so far from alone and is helped along to the last puzzle piece by a shotgun-wielding old woman. A perfect detective is boring; a flawed detective has a plot.
The movie also does a good job of setting up information, but for some, there is never a payoff. For example, I found the Women’s Rights Gunpowder Plot to be interesting, with bread crumbs hidden though out the story. I thought that Eudoria would be involved with the Voting Rights bill, possibly even bombing the Lord’s house if the vote went the wrong way. But we never got a pay off for the Women’s Suffrage/jiu-jitsu Club. That is not to ignore what we did get a pay-off for, however. The connection between “Enola-Alone” and secret messages using the flowers was fascinating and well set up. But the background gunpowder plot never got enough usage.
The movie leaves far more questions than answers. Where was Eudoria? Why was she gone? What is the goal and extent of Eudoria’s club? Why is Mycroft such a little shit?
Okay, that last one was a joke.
In conclusion, Enola Holmes is a good-natured detective story, filled with the tropes we come to expect. Using the time period, the story relays the classic story of a woman breaking through the glass ceiling, as well as a compelling murder-mystery and respecting existing canonical characters. However, the lack of pay-off for certain plot points prevents the film from getting a perfect score. I give it an 8.5/10.