RogerBW's Blog

Enola Holmes (2020) 29 November 2020

2020 thriller/mystery, dir. Harry Bradbeer, Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill; IMDb / allmovie.

On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Enola Holmes finds that her mother has disappeared without a word. But since she's the younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock, she doesn't wait to see what will happen next. On the way to London, she runs into someone fleeing from his own problems…

This is low-complexity entertainment, and as such it does its job. There's an independent tone (Enola's true path is not to be an imitation of her mother or of either of her brothers, but to do her own thing); there's plenty of action; there are some competent actors (and Burn Gorman who is at least in a part that plays to his strengths). Of course, if you poke it with a stick it falls apart; this is Historyland, not 1884. In reality, militancy for women's suffrage wouldn't start for another twenty years; carriages weren't driven on the right side of the road; corridors connecting compartments on trains didn't come in until 1903; shotgun shells weren't cased in bright red plastic… in order to enjoy the film, it's necessary to forget many of the things one knows.

Which is a shame, because that makes it less relevant to the real world. Meanwhile, the cast is appealing and their gyrations entertain. Enola herself wavers between competent and blubbery as the moment demands, but when she's being competent she's interesting. And there's one other character who can't be classed immediately as just a good helpful person or a bad obstructive person, which is frankly more than I had expected in this kind of thing.

People who see lurking feminism and "political correctness" everywhere will hate this film because it has a female protagonist who isn't a doormat (so it's doing the right thing there), and it biases the world so that she's always in the right. In an age when people are seriously proposing ending female suffrage and not being immediately laughed out of the room, it's probably necessary to be this firm on the message. It's just a shame it couldn't have been a better film at the same time.

(The Conan Doyle estate, which tries desperately to grub any money it can from anything resembling the few bits of Sherlock Holmes that it still holds in its rotting claws, has lodged a copyright claim because the film shows Holmes with emotions… and those only occur in stories published after 1923, and are therefore still in US copyright. So that's a point in the film's favour; anything that annoys those corpse-looters is worth doing.)

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 11:31am on 29 November 2020

    We enjoyed the movie.

    I'm going to roll out the usual answer, it's not a documentary. Shakespeare's play were AFAIK originally presented in Elizabethan clothes of the era, so there's a historical precedent for 'presentism' within stories.

    I sometimes think you must be the mirror image equivalent of Galaxy Quests Thermian's. The historical documents...

    ...cue squealing laughter.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:16pm on 29 November 2020

    Oh, if you put the whole thing into modern times that would be a very different story, but one that could still work. (And I've enjoyed some modern-set Sherlock Holmes.) The core problem to my mind with using a historical period but getting the details wrong is that the more it deviates from reality it feels as though the setting has been made that way specifically to assist the author in making their point.

    Which it has, of course, in pretty much every case; even an author writing strictly historical (or strictly in someone else's setting) can choose which bits they emphasise. But it shouldn't feel that way. If it does, it can turn a good point into a preachy parable.

  3. Posted by Chris Bell at 06:04pm on 29 November 2020

    Not to mention anachronistic detail being simply boring because it irritates me clean out of the plot. Like someone wearing a wristwatch in a production of Julius Caesar being played in togas: there may be a clock striking in Act II of the play, but a wristwatch is absurd.

    It's not just annoying when someone cba to check on the history of a place. If the distance from Oxford to Cambridge were specifically mentioned as being a hundred miles one might blink a bit, or even baulk at it. And if someone were to assert in a story that turquoise is a shade of red, and this were important to the plot as a fact rather than an indication that the person asserting it was slightly eccentric, it would make that story a little less worth paying attention to, I feel.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:29pm on 29 November 2020

    Historic detail being out by a decade or two can be glossed over to extent. But bright red plastic anything is going to look thoroughly out of place. And driving on the right? Really? Can't these people do ANY research?

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 06:32pm on 29 November 2020

    The director (Harry Bradbeer) is English. The director of photography (Giles Nuttgens) is English. I strongly suspect that this particular one isn't a case of "they didn't know", but rather "they chose to do it that way anyway" – perhaps for the visual grammar of the shot, perhaps because they thought it would confuse US audiences.

  6. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:51pm on 30 November 2020

    But, with coaches you can actually demonstrate why we drive on the left in the UK! Or did they want a shot where they whip the driver coming the other way by accident?

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