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Enola Holmes: Just when we needed a formidable woman detective

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Like Sherlock Holmes, Enola Holmes too works alone; and indeed her name if spelt backwards does read ‘Alone’. ‘Stranger Things’ star Millie Bobby Brown plays the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes and his domineering brother Mycroft. In the classic version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock does indeed have a brother, but Enola is the creation of Nancy Springer, for her series of novels with a young woman detective in the lead, and she created a formidable character fit to be the legendary detective’s sister, and more.

Enola does grow into becoming a young detective, when she solves a mystery for a friend, a royalty of sorts, whom she accidentally meets when she is running away from home and her brother to London. Mycroft insists she must be tamed to be lady like in a finishing school so that she becomes eligible for marriage. Enola was not brought up to me tamed.

Her two brothers leave the Holmes mansion when she was quite young, and Enola’s mother brings her up in the most unconventional and free-spirited manner. She gets to read all the books in the library, learns to fight, and gets trained in Jiu Jitsu martial art, she is fit and is always playing a sport or running in the open. In a way it’s a sheltered life, but she learns all she needs to survive on her own. In her world, women do not wear the binding corset, or are bound by the expectations of the society. In the backdrop of the story is the historic women’s campaign for right to vote, that turns violent with police and male vigilantes attacking the protestors and campaigners; and, a bill towards reform is waiting to be voted for in the House of Lords. This in reality is an important time in the history of women. The final power to vote for all women came in 1918, but the movements and leaders that led women towards suffrage are significant and extraordinary; an account of which can be watched in the Disney Hotstar series ‘Mrs America’ as well.  

This film on Netflix based on ‘The Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of The Missing Marquess’ has Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes, Sal Claflin as Mycroft and Louis Patridge as Tewkesbury, or the missing Marquess. The story takes off on Enola’s 14th birthday, when her mother enacted by the Oscar-winning Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club and The Crown) vanishes. It is up to her to go looking for her and uncover her truth based on clues and indications that she imagines her mother left her. In her quest, she is constantly directed by the voice of her mother that she grew up with giving her the tips to self-defense, giving her confidence and teaching her lessons in believing herself enough to exercise choice. Extremely intuitive and bold, Enola stands for what a woman must be.

There have been films and series, especially in the recent past, paying customary service to the cause of women, by throwing in a character, a scene or better still a woman-super hero. Even though set in the 19th century, unlike the Sherlock series, which was all about solving mysteries with a lot of drama thrown in, ‘Enola Holmes’, as a woman, and a film, breaks stereotypes and sets an example of how to craft an empowering narrative without being excessively patronising, and sermonising to women.    

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