REPOST: The Dark Herald Does Not Recommend Enola HolmesThe Dark Herald
For reasons that will shortly become obvious, I need to get some articles written well in advance of their publication date on this blog. Which means you get to read a review from my old blog today.
There are two rules if you’re going to be playing in some other writers’ backyard. First, you have to respect the rules of the game they invented. Second, you need to clear the bloody rights. Both of which Enola Holmes failed to do.
The Arthur Conan Doyle estate is suing for infringement now that they know about Enola Holmes’s existence. Technically, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes are indeed in the public domain, however, the last ten stories are still under copyright protection. The argument that the Doyle estate is making, is that the last ten are the only stories in which Sherlock Holmes’s emotions are mentioned which is the basis for the infringement case against Nancy Springer. The real-life basis is, of course, that the Doyle estate has money and is willing to file a lawsuit at the drop of a hat.
Important note for authors, you are authors, not lawyers. If something is in the public domain but there is an estate that’s saying it isn’t and has the money to take you to court, then it’s NOT public domain.
Also, if you are an author and have the means, then you need to set up an estate to protect your work. The notoriously sub-talented NK Jemisin has said she is rewriting HP Lovecraft because his writings racism deeply offended her. However, even though Armageddon 2419 is unquestionably in the public domain, George Clooney is still getting sued by the Nowlan Estate for trying to make a Buck Rogers movie.
But getting back to my first point, this movie does not play by the rules that A.C. Doyle setup. They took the world of Sherlock Holmes and rewrote it so that it would be a blunt instrument with which they could smash the Patriarchy. The Patriarchy, as expected, is represented by the suddenly dull-witted Mycroft Holmes.
Movie opens with Enola riding on a bicycle and turning to face the audience in order to break the 4th wall. It turns out she can’t ride the bicycle all that well. This is supposed to be endearing, instead of ungainly because manic pixie dream girls are required to be clumsy and socially awkward.
Breaking the 4th wall, is called non-diagenesis and it’s usually a very worrying sign. It strongly suggests a screenwriter who has bitten off more than… Hang on a second, checking the credits… he can chew. The screenwriter appears to be a man despite what his picture would indicate. Although, this movie is based on a series of young adult novels by a (presumably) woman named Nancy Springer. Full disclosure, I have not read these books, but I did do a little thumbing through and the prose appears to be quite competent and highly engaging.
Regardless, non-diagenesis is tricky to get right. I’m not saying it can’t work. In a musical, for example, the songs are (generally) non-diegetic. The story halts for a moment and characters sing and dance. That’s easy non-diagenesis.
The books were written in first-person. This is completely diegetic (if tricky in its own right). However, having Millie Bobby Brown turn, face the camera and narrate is non-diegetic. The story halts so she can tell the audience about things.
There is respect for authorial intent and there is fucking things up in bringing them to the screen.
I’m not saying breaking the fourth wall can’t work. Obviously, it can. When Richard III makes an aside to the audience, he is taking you, the audience member, further into the story by making you, his co-conspirator. The evil king-to-be clearly trusts and values you. You are now part of his plot to bring down his family and place himself on the throne. You are now part of the story.
That is not the same as narrating.
In this case it is narrating and doing so breaks rule one, “Show don’t tell.”
It’s a bad start.
Enola is an anagram for Alone, this is supposed to mean something but doesn’t. We get a pretty quick montage of Enola’s life at this fairly gigantic English Manor house. The household consists of Enola, her mother, and what has to be the most overworked maid in England. I mean this place is gargantuan, how the hell is one maid supposed to keep it clean? Is her last name Pennyworth? Is this Alfred’s great grandmother?
We get to see the girl’s very unconventional education. Apparently, her mother wanted Enola to be an intelligence field officer. Her curriculum consisted of a lot of encryption, hard sciences, and the martial arts. There was also indoor tennis where she and her mother would break expensive things. She did not learn anything like social graces, embroidery, or basic marksmanship with a pistol although her mother made sure she knew how to use a bow and arrow. There is nothing in this course of study that resembles useful life skills. You get the very strong impression that one autistic woman has been raising another.
So, we observe about five minutes of this teenager’s empowering, you-go-girl upbringing. And then Enola wakes up one morning to find her mother has vanished.
It eventually turns out her mother went off to London to pursue her lifelong dream of being a terrorist. No, seriously that’s why she disappeared. And the movie completely forgets about the fact that this is always considered a bad thing. Victorian Lives Matter.
Anyway, Enola informs her older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes of their mother’s disappearance. The characters of her brothers are quickly established, Mycroft is the oppressive patriarch (who has about half the IQ points he has in the books) and Sherlock is the sympathetic one with high cheek bones. Neither one seems to be all that concerned about Mom vanishing.
We get to see the exterior of the house for the first time and it appears to be in considerable disrepair. Honestly, I can understand why Mycroft was pissed off at his mother.
Here is the first of what will be many asides. The size of this estate indicates that the Holmes family came from money. This is incorrect, they were middle class and probably not upper-middle-class given that Mycroft had to enter government service and the Sherlock was eking out an existence as a private investigator, one so poor that he needed a roommate.
We find out that the older brother inherited the house and is in charge of all of the family’s finances. And that he had graciously allowed his mother to educate their younger sister “privately” instead of sending her to a “public” school. * His mother had also been padding the bills that she had been sending her eldest son. A non-existent house staff, a non-existent governess, Etc, yet clearly, she’d been spending the money on something. At this point, the understandably upset elder Holmes decides that his baby sister needs to be sent to a finishing school.
We get to meet a firm Scottish headmistress who promptly slaps Enola, (not without reason), to let us know she’s bad.
At this point, Enola runs off so the movie can start. Truthfully, it’s not a bad first act. It does the job it’s supposed to.
Enola breaks the 4th wall quite a bit at this point to let us know how clever she is being with her escape plan. This halts the action and serves only to make Enola look like a bigger Mary-Sue than she actually is. At the rail station, we discover that there is a second run away somewhere around, this one is male. I wonder if he’ll be good looking. Turns out he has hidden himself away in an oversized carpet bag. Now, up to this point, the contrivances were not really terrible but as ridiculous luck would have it, the carpet bag in question is in Enola’s train compartment.
She is now introduced to her puppy-eyed love interest who is a Viscount and therefore of higher social station than she is. Plus, he comes from money. Naturally, she isn’t interested in any of those things it’s his brilliant and sensitive mind that she finds so intriguing.
This film is a head-scratcher in a few places. It appears to have an American’s inaccurate view of the British class structure (a hold-over from Nancy Springer?) and yet this film was made by Britts. Tewksbury ran off because his family wants him to join the Army, except that he is heir, and you don’t do that with the heir.
Also, it turns out that someone is trying to kill young Sir Dewy Eyes.
I shall endeavor at this point too present you with the underlying plot. There is a vote that is about to take place in the House of Lords and Enola’s love interest will be the one to cast the deciding vote in favor. This vote is to expand voting rights. Sinister Forces of Repression are determined to remove him so he can’t cast that vote. The Youngest Holmes is determined to protect him (even though she will never need any man).
However, I’m not entirely sure what voting rights they’re referring to. The Third Reform Act of 1884 did significantly expand the voting rights of men however voting rights for women weren’t secured until after World War One. At one point the teenagers are puttering around in a mid-1890s horseless carriage (with Enola driving naturally). Apparently, the producers just made up something because they were inventing history all over the place anyway, so why not there too?
I am not unreasonable about historical accuracy. You do need to make some adjustments for modern sensibilities or at least you do for a movie that was originally intended for a mass market. The 1890s was a drastically different world, if you’re too realistic in its depiction; one, your audience is going to be completely grossed out and two, you’re going to spend half your time explaining things that the audience won’t understand.
However, Enola Holmes spends most of its time condemning a strawman world that it made up.
Anyway, our heroine gets to London on the trail of her mother, having temporarily parted company with her young man.
Enola’s deductive skills aren’t quite as good as Sherlock’s. She memorized an address her mother sent a number of letters to, so she went there. It was a women’s dojo run by a black woman.
They got the Victorian martial arts wrong too. Having a women’s dojo in Victorian London was silly but women’s selfdefense classes in that period were not completely unknown. So, if you going to go there, then you should embrace the suck and have her teaching her students Bartitsu, not Jujitsu. Bartitsu is even in the original books and if you want to see a decent example of it watch the bar fight in the Kingsman. Cane fighting is a big component of it and would have made more sense for a Victorian girl with a parasol. But then Enola never had a parasol because it’s a symbol of patriarchal oppression, or at least I assume it is because everything else in this movie was.
This establishes that Enola can fight and at least it’s an explanation for it. You don’t get those much anymore and I cherish them when they come my way. So in this case I will force myself to overlook the fundamental ridiculousness of a women’s dojo in 1890s London.
After talking to her former sensei, she decides to stop looking for her mother for reasons and goes off to find her love-interest having finally remembered that he is in danger and only she can protect him. Since he looks to be about 40 pounds soaking wet this more believable than you would think.
As he has a rabid interest in botany and floriculture, she deduces (or rather guesses) that she can find him at the London flower market. Where he has been living a happy plebeian existence selling flowers. The fact that he wants to be poor is proof that he is a very good person at heart. Or given that he wants to be poor in Victorian London, it’s proof that he’s insane.
Their relationship builds for a little bit on the basis of one of those and then Enola is captured.
I must confess, I failed miserably at the popular Hollywood game of Who’s Black Now? I thought it for sure it would be Mrs. Hudson or the Irregulars but they weren’t in this movie. There was a decent chance it was Watson, but he wasn’t in it either. Turned out it was Inspector Lestrade. 1890s Scotland Yard was startlingly progressive.
As I said, Enola’s mother raised her to be an autistic rebel. Naturally, her hell on Earth was being sent to a finishing school. Now, this school is supposed to be super evil, but it is shockingly progressive in its own right. There are black and Asian girls attending this 19th-century bulwark of Victorianism. We get to see Enola not fitting in and being taught useless skills like embroidery, eating with a spoon, and embroidery. She is also taught how to laugh because Victorian girls didn’t know how to do that without instruction.
This is supposed to be Enola’s long dark teatime of the soul, the low point of her story before she suddenly rallies and goes off to finish her tale at the climax. The long dark teatime of the soul is always ended by the moment of clarity, which in this case was provided by a visit from Sherlock. The thing is that I just didn’t care about Enola’s problems at this school. Most of the difficulties she was having she brought down on her own obnoxious little head. Apparently, having to obey a reasonable set of rules that everyone was following was an utterly intolerable burden for someone as special as she is. Far from inspiring sympathy, it just made her look like a spoiled teenage drama queen.
After Sherlock’s visit, her boyfriend conveniently chooses that moment to break her out of Miss Umbridge’s school for wayward teenage protagonists.
They go to the Viscount’s family estate. Where they have the final run-in with the thug who had been chasing both of them throughout the movie. And Enola straight up kills him. Up until now, we had thought that it was the boy’s uncle who wanted to murder him and then take his place in the House of Lords and of course vote against the progressive measure. However, it turned out it was the sympathetic grandmother that we’d met earlier who decides to kill her own grandson. In the name of refusing women the vote?
I mean the thug probably should have reported back to the grandmother, “look the kid just wants to sell flowers. If we leave him there, no problem, no dead body and you don’t have to murder your grandson. You know I’m just throwing that out there as a possibility for you.”
“No,” she probably replied, “I’ve already murdered my own son, so let’s be thorough about this. You know I don’t like to leave things half tended to.”
Back to my plot summary, Grandma shoots the teenage love interest, but she is touchingly grief-stricken about this. Millie Bobby Brown gets to have a really good on-screen crying jag. The kid is a natural, I’ll give that to her. She can certainly act better than Jennifer Lawrence.
It will surprise you to learn that this was almost a Recommends with Reservations. This film did indeed have its pretty good moments, unfortunately, it also had its cringe moments, and they outweighed the good.
But if they had let her first love die… If the film had allowed Enola to fail. I would have had to have given it a higher rating. It would have made this a much better film. It would have made Enola, alone. This would also have given her character a catalyst moving forward. She had failed once and massively when it really counted at a very young age. Very well, it will never happen again.
But of course, her teenage love interest was wearing an armor plate beneath his vest. Because Mary-Sues can’t ever fail.
The rest is just denouement. Her mom comes for a visit and explains things. Enola fails to remonstrate with her mother about being a terrorist. She sees her boyfriend again and breaks the 4th wall one last time. Film over.
Credit where it’s due Millie Bobby Brown was a good choice for her role. Likely, the film only got made because she’s the right age to do it.
The evil Scottish headmistress was pretty decent. Despite the fact that her character was written to be cardboard flat. Fiona Shaw let you know there was a human being hiding in there. One that had been badly hurt in her life and this was how she had reacted to that.
I kind of feel sorry for Millie Bobby Brown, even though I’m certain that this is NOT going to last. Today’s sweet and spunky, sixteen-year-old Emma Watson will be tomorrow’s thirty-year-old, Critical Race Cultist Emma Watson. Brown appears to be headed strongly in that direction already. And given the world, she inhabits there’s really nothing I can foresee that will derail her from arriving at that destination. Nonetheless, I can currently feel a little sorry for her, she’s far too young to recognize a good project from a bad one, and apparently, nobody else in her life can recognize them either.
Henry Cavil on the other hand was poorly cast as Sherlock Holmes. He’s too pretty for the part. Holmes is gaunt and hawk-like. And while I’ve very much liked Cavil’s performances before, he was just wooden this time out. It felt like the director didn’t want to work with him. Which means he thought that Cavil was wrong for the part too. So, who thought he was right for it? Well, two of the producers are named, Millie Bobby Brown and Paige Brown. If a teenage girl and her mother had some say in casting, it might explain why a profoundly handsome man who was completely wrong for the part got hired.
Its worst issue was indeed it’s breaking of the 4th wall. Yes, the book was told in the first person but that is no reason to try and make the movie first-person. The medium is the message and film is simply and obviously a different medium from a book.
The 4th wall problem is actually a pretty easy fix. Just give Enola her own Watson. Instead of explaining things to the audience, she could explain them to her plucky friend.
Full disclosure, I’m making this movie sound worse than it actually is. As I said before it had its moments. There were times where I was engaged with Enola and her world. But then something ultra-cringe would happen in the name of smashing the Patriarchy and it would take me out of the story completely.
The pity of this movie is that there was a decent story to be found in here somewhere. But it was buried in third-wave feminism. This flick is so busy passing judgment on its own fantasies about the Victorian world that it can’t be bothered to do its job of telling its main story.
The Dark Herald Does Not Recommend.