Thursday, October 8, 2020

Mystery Watch: Enola Holmes (2020)


Watched:  10/5/2020
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020
Director:  Harry Bradbeer

I am *pretty* sure this wasn't aimed at me, but it was kind of delightful.  

This is one highly-nit-pickable movie, and I won't say I didn't have a few times I didn't say something out loud during the movie to Jamie - but it always seemed in poor taste and not in the spirit of the thing.  

Enola Holmes tells the story of Sherlock Holmes' (Henry Cavill) younger sister - a prodigy in her own right (Millie Bobby Brown), but just 16.  She's been raised in the Holmes family manor entirely by her mother, her brothers having had departed shortly after their father passed when Enola was very young.  

Her mother (the always wonderful Helena Bonham Carter) has raised her outside of social norms, recognizing her capacity and aware that a late Victorian-era England will ruin her with its expectations and limitations.  But on her 16th birthday, her mother disappears.  Flat out seems to have ducked out, leaving not exactly clues, but a few items which will provide comfort and perhaps a means of communication.  

Enola's brothers return to the estate as Enola's 16th birthday was supposed to be when the home was returned to Sherlock's older brother, Mycroft (a real character from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels and stories, versus the late entry of Enola from a series of novels recently published) as the heir to the Holmes home and fortune.  Sherlock is fine with his place as the second heir and having no responsibilities that the role of the elder sibling entails, which Mycroft seems to relish.  What Mycroft does not relish seems to be everyone still living in his immediate family, and so he plans to send his sister to finishing school to prepare her for wifehood and being a "lady", appalled at how she's been raised.  

Upon boarding a train to make good her escape from Mycroft's plans for her, Enola meets a young man on the run from *his* family's expectations - as it turns out - as an heir and Marquess.  From here, the story interleaves the mystery of what became of Enola's mother, the plot against the young marquess, and Enola's less than stellar relationship with her brothers.  It's a tight, tidy movie that doesn't exactly go in for Sir Doyle-style sleuthing - this never feels like a Sherlock Holmes mystery-, but has a decent bit of assembling of clues, making connections and pulling the pieces together.

For American audiences, I'm not sure we're fully aware of how much uglier the women's suffrage movement (which is on a rising boil in the background of the film) was in England than the US.  Jail time, beatings, and all forms of dissuasion were employed to deter the suffragettes.  Also, unlike the US, suffragettes in the UK performed acts of destruction, which were considered a set back the cause.  So, yes, it is likely Sherlock Holmes' mother in this movie was looking to go Guy Fawkes on everyone.

Stylistically, it's hard not to notice the Fleabag-style breaking of the 4th wall, but I'll argue that it works here and keeps Enola from seeming simply put upon until she gathers her pluck to resolve the movie in the 3rd act.  Here, her direct addressing of the audience gives us confidence in the character that blows up subtext but makes it clear what she's on about.  There's also significant use of flashback, both to assemble clues and to give us insight into the Holmes household.  It's a choice, and mostly I think it works, especially as they seem to be aware of how much they're leaning on it with a bit toward the end.

The film is also amazingly gorgeous - a mix of CGI-style cityscapes of 1900-era London, mixed with great costuming and what I assume were sets or liberal use of real locations.    

As I mentioned - nits to pick:

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate is currently suing the filmmakers for making Holmes too "emotional".  Look, to me Sherlock Holmes is the love child of Basil Rathbone and a young Peter Cushing coldly going over facts - so once you cast Superman as Sherlock everything is out the window.  But it is a curious take to make Holmes so.. different from the source material and popular conception (until Robert Downey Jr., I guess).

Much is made of how Enola doesn't know much of the world or people before she enters the world and meets people, but it's never really a hindrance for her.  She just sort of plows ahead.  Her assumptions are not wrong, her ability to navigate 1900-era London is okeydokey, and she is at ease with everyone from shopkeepers to nobility.  At 16.  Never really knowing anyone but her mother and the maid.

There's also a LOT about the combat training that she receives, but, man, if the only person you ever physically fight is your 115 lb. mom...  you're gonna get your ass beat in the real world.  It's a minor thing in a movie, usually, but they keep flashing back to the combat training as it's narratively important, but every time they do, I started thinking "this is actually terrible fight training.  You're (a) psychologically going to be in a weird place fist fighting your mother every day and (b) you have learned to beat one person and no one else.  And everyone fights differently."

But, in general, it was good, escapist fun.  If I had kids, it'd be something I'd think they should watch - especially as Enola's sudden and unexpected freedom might echo the beginning of adventure for so many kids raised in the current mode of constant supervision.  Enola has her head on straight and is an admirable and non-boring lead, and she works for her wins - and her pluck and wit never feel contrived or twee.

I dunno.  It was an okay movie.  I'd watch more of these characters.  

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