In a time and place with no dearth of adaptations and spin-offs, revamping detective fiction’s most beloved character is no run-of-the-mill feat, by any measure. Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary classic, Sherlock Holmes, needs no introduction. The mystery series has spawned contemporary adaptations by the number, from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Emmy-winning portrayal of the eccentric detective in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ to Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu’s gender-bending ‘Elementary’.
‘Enola Holmes’, too, is gender and genre-bending of its own accord. But while ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Elementary’ transported the private detective to the 21st century, ‘Enola Holmes’ transports 21st-century ideals to 19th-century England. ‘Enola Holmes’ bears all the hallmarks of a juicy detective classic: confounding ciphers, villains that lay wait in dark alleyways, a heroic love story, and, of course, the Holmes family. But the protagonist of this mystery is not world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes; it’s his equally mystery-hungry sister, Enola. And like all meaty mysteries do, ‘Enola Holmes’ begins with a disappearance.
Eudoria Holmes has been mother, friend, governess, and mentor all rolled into one to daughter Enola. Eudoria’s fine-tuned syllabus for Enola consists of literature, puzzles, sports, and martial arts galore. Under her mother’s tutelage, Enola is molded into a young woman of spunk, grit, and wit, but there’s a catch: she lacks 19th-century charm-school etiquette. Her mother has instilled in her skills of utility, not of appearance.
On Enola’s 16th birthday, her education comes to a screeching halt when Eudoria vanishes into thin air; unbeknownst to our young heroine, her lifelong education will be put to the test. She turns to her famous and influential brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, for assistance, but both are less than sympathetic. Mycroft is stupefied at her apparent disregard for ‘feminine’ mannerisms while Sherlock is largely indifferent to her plight. Enola comes to the realization that the only person she can, and should, rely on is herself. When Mycroft threatens her with a stint at a boarding school, she leaves (read: escapes) her childhood home. Enola’s sleuthing skills and clues sneakily left behind by Eudoria take her to the beating heart of England, London.
En route, by sheer serendipity, Enola encounters English nobility, a deadly assassin, and Scotland Yard detectives – all of which add up to her very first case as Enola Holmes, detective. The case is such: the runaway young Lord Viscount Tewksbury is in a matter of deep distress – he jumped out of the pot and into the frying pan – which is to say that he escaped the confines of his home and the weight of his title, only to find himself pursued by a murderous assassin. This unfolds against the backdrop of an England undergoing a sea of change. The Reform Act (of 1884), a potentially unprecedented revolution that could be the harbinger of universal suffrage, is about to be voted on in the House of Lords. In the wake of Tewksbury’s father’s death, the young Lord would take his place and vote in the House.
Upon knowing this, our detective par excellence suspects this to be a familial matter – someone from Tewksbury’s family wants him dead and his vote stripped away. Enola is met with a fork in the road – to pursue the case of the Viscount or to track down mother dearest. Enola, ever the voice of the downtrodden, chooses the former.
Enola Holmes Ending, Explained
The ending is befitting a classic whodunit, albeit without the traditional ‘reveal’ wherein the detective unpacks the details of the gory murder. Enola and Tewksbury race to his manor to confront the perpetrator (who they assume to be Tewksbury’s uncle). But they’re in for a rude shock; lying in wait for them is the assassin extraordinaire.
Enola and the assassin battle it out, while the Viscount watches from afar. Enola goes toe to toe with the assassin and knocks him out cold. Then, the real perpetrator reveals herself – Tewksbury’s grandma – and intends to finish the assassin’s job. Luckily for him, Tewksbury escapes by the skin of his teeth and a presence of mind. The next day, he attends the vote for the Reform Act and casts the deciding vote; the Act passes. He and Enola exchange lovesick glances with each other and part ways, vowing to see each other again.
Meanwhile, Sherlock, with all his bravado, arrives at Scotland Yard, only to learn that his sister got there first – and has since vanished. The renowned detective and Mycroft attempt to trick Enola into meeting with them, but the budding sleuth pulls out tricks of her own and leaves them stumped by her whereabouts. Enola returns home to find a surprise waiting for her: not Sherlock or Mycroft, but her mother, in the very flesh.
Eudoria confesses to her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement and reveals that Enola beat her to her own goal: passing the Reform Act. Mother and daughter rejoice in their reunion, but not for long. Eudoria has to conceal her identity and go underground, leaving Enola to her own devices. Enola understands her mother’s compulsion and vows to send her ‘irises’ – coded messages – should the need arise. After her mother departs, Enola affirms her empowerment and cycles away to glory.
Why did Eudoria vanish?
From young, Eudoria has ingrained in her daughter the importance of empowerment: she brings Enola up on a diet of feminist literature, comprising the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women); she instills in her the art of defense; she teaches her to fend for herself and submit to no one. Nonetheless, it dawns on Eudoria that, should the women’s suffrage movement not take flight, her daughter (and millions of daughters of England) will remain slave to the systemic misogyny that continues to infringe their rights. To achieve her ends, Eudoria will go to drastic, and even violent lengths, as evidenced by the dynamite she stores at Limehouse Lane.
Her radical (at least for the 19th century) politics make her a moving target for assassins. We’ve learned the extent to which traditionalists would resort to uphold the pecking order of their times: Tewksbury’s grandmother was prepared to sacrifice two of her heirs in the name of her misinformed ideals. If Eudoria pursued her progressive agenda in plain view, her own life and that of Enola’s would be in grave danger. In true revolutionary fashion, Eudoria vanishes underground. She leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for Enola to sniff out and trace back to London, but no further. If push came to shove, Eudoria was ready to take militant action to guarantee the passing of the Reform Act. Fortunately for her, her own daughter was more than capable of taking care of business and Eudoria’s hand was not forced.
Why was Tewksbury’s grandmother out for blood?
Tewksbury’s grandmother is a staunch traditionalist and mentions as much to Enola in their brief meeting. She considers her country’s greatness to be directly proportional to its reactionist stance. The women’s suffrage movement, she believes, will impede her nation’s so-called ‘supremacy.’ Her beliefs, however, are directly at odds with that of her son and grandson’s. The two are far more liberal-minded and forward-thinking than the matriarch and her younger son, the Viscount’s uncle.
When the House of Lords, of which her son is an integral part, is called upon to vote on the groundbreaking Reform Act, grandmother learns that her son’s opinion skews liberal and eliminates him from the equation (euphemism for murdering him). When it falls to her grandson to cast the deciding vote, she wastes no time in dispatching an assassin after him too, with a view to allowing her conservative younger son to inherit the seat in the House. Enola foils grandma’s master plan when she plays knight in shining armor and rescues the young Lord Tewksbury.
What lies ahead for Enola Holmes?
Over the course of the movie, Enola proves, time and again, that she can be just as, if not more, self-reliant and free-spirited as any man. Netflix’s latest original turns gender stereotypes on their outdated head; here, Enola is the whip-smart, audacious young detective, always a step ahead of her brothers, Scotland Yard, and the scheming antagonists. The traditionally male duo of Sherlock and Watson are replaced with Enola at the helm and the Viscount essaying the Watson to Enola’s Sherlock.
Director Harry Bradbeer decisively shuns the damsel in distress trope; Enola is our daring damsel, while Tewksbury plays the distressed. When Tewksbury is at death’s door (literally; he barely hangs onto the feeble door of a moving train), Enola swoops in not a moment too soon. As Tewksbury’s assassin strangles the life out of him with glee, it’s Enola to the rescue again. When her brothers think her incapable of deciphering her mother’s clues, Enola triumphantly proves them wrong.
Although hailing from a genre poles apart, Enola’s pluckiness is evocative of another pop culture heroine. Notably, the movie features several nods to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ‘Fleabag’, arguably this decade’s most lauded feminist television event (unsurprisingly, ‘Fleabag’s’ Emmy-laureate director, Bradbeer, has lent his directorial prowess to ‘Enola Holmes’ too). Like ‘Fleabag’, Enola breaks the fourth wall often and with gusto. Incidentally, Waller-Bridge intended the plot device to be used when ‘Fleabag’ felt alienated from her surroundings and had no one else to turn to. Enola, too, when abandoned by her mother and declared a lost cause by her brothers, turns to us, her audience. Like ‘Fleabag’, Enola is pegged as a bad apple with an appetite for mischief, mayhem, and more. Like her, she defies male expectations of feminine expression and independence. Like ‘Fleabag’, Enola eventually finds her footing in a male-dominated society that tries its best to preclude her from doing so.
At the very end of her soul-searching mission, Enola proclaims, in a flash of inspiration, “My life is my own.” A quest for her missing mother eventually doubled as a quest for her sense of purpose. Enola finds her raison d’etre in alleviating the male gatekeeping of the detective field; she proves that she can outwit the best of the best, her own brother Sherlock.
Along the way, she finds male allies in Sherlock and the Viscount, both of whom will, undoubtedly, become a fixture in Enola’s life, albeit without proving overbearing. Sherlock, initially, doesn’t have enough skin in the game to empathize with Enola. As Eudoria’s fellow suffragette, Edith, so eloquently puts it, “Because you [Sherlock] have no interest in changing a world that suits you so well.” Despite being a once-in-a-generation mind, Sherlock’s privilege obscures his ability to be compassionate to the cause championed by mother and daughter. But when plucky, enterprising Enola outsmarts the smartest detective in all the land, Sherlock realizes his shortcomings and vows to take her under his wing. Under Sherlock’s guardianship, Enola will learn (and impart!) useful tips for sleuthing. Given her newfound sense of purpose, her companionship with Sherlock and Tewksbury, and her immense empowerment, we are yet to see the last of Enola Holmes.
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