Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective, scholar, chemist, virtuoso violinist, expert marksman, swordsman, singlestick fighter, pugilist and brilliant deductive thinker.
He also happens to have a little sister named Enola.
Being much younger, Enola wasn’t raised alongside Sherlock or their older brother, Mycroft. No, after their father died, the boys followed their own paths—Mycroft to a cushy government position and Sherlock to his consulting detective business.
This left Enola to be raised by their now-widowed mother, Eudoria, alone (which is fitting since Enola spelled backwards is “alone”).
Eudoria taught Enola all about reading, science and sports (especially the martial art jujitsu). She emphasized that Enola could do whatever she wanted and be whoever she wanted. She was Enola’s whole world.
So when Eudoria mysteriously disappears on Enola’s 16th birthday, the young girl’s understandably shaken.
Mycroft and Sherlock soon arrive at their family estate, which they haven’t visited in many years. They’re appalled by Enola’s free-spirited, undisciplined ways, as well as the tattered condition of Ferndall Hall. Mycroft meanly labels Enola an “uneducated, underdressed, poorly mannered wildling.” His solution? Sending her off to finishing school. Sherlock, for his part, seems largely unconcerned about the girl’s current state or her future one. He just wants to solve the mystery of what happened to their mother.
Of course, none of this suits Enola. She wants to figure out what happened to Eudoria just as much as they do. And she certainly doesn’t want to attend finishing school to become a “proper” lady of society. But, alas, her brothers ignore her pleas. So Enola runs away to find her mother on her own. Because if there’s one thing that Eudoria impressed upon her daughter, it’s that a woman should always choose her own path in life, not the one others choose for her.
Eudoria shares a close bond with Enola, teaching her daughter all that she knows and preparing her for all manners of potential opportunities in the future. And although she largely neglects to prepare Enola for how to behave in polite society, Eudoria does instill in her daughter the conviction that women are as capable of doing anything as men are, and that Enola’s sole identity and purpose in life don’t have to be finding a husband and rearing children—unless that’s the way she wants it to be.
Eudoria’s disappearance causes strife for her three children. Mycroft and Sherlock, who barely know Enola, are suddenly charged with caring for her. And Enola, already feeling abandoned by her mother, feels even more unwanted when Mycroft tries to ship her off to finishing school and Sherlock refuses to defend her.
However, being separated from her mother actually proves to be good for Enola in the context of this story. She learns how to fend for herself, stands up to her brothers and chooses her own future. Her brothers, in turn, realize that even though Enola didn’t turn out how they expected, she is highly resourceful and quite extraordinary in her own right.
Enola feels obligated to defend those who can’t defend themselves. She tells the story of how she once risked her life to save a sheep from falling off a cliff and applies the same rationale to saving the life of Lord Tewksbury, a young man about her age who also ran away from home.
Tewksbury has several ideas about how to use his position in England’s House of Lords to better the country, but he confesses his fear that he is only following the path that his family set for him and that he’ll wind up hating it. However, after learning that there is a plot to kill him, he realizes how important his progressive stance is and that he needs to be brave in order to make change for good.
The housekeeper at Ferndall Hall worries when Enola runs away since the girl knows nothing about the outside world. She also mentions that Enola left money for her before leaving. (Just as Eudoria did for her daughter.)
Someone says, “God help us.” A cross replaces Enola’s father in a drawing when she explains that he passed away. Some portraits in the background show women wearing cross necklaces. Another cross is visible in a cemetery. But apart from those occasional symbols, no substantial reference to God is made in the story at all.
Enola’s measurements are taken by the headmistress of a finishing school, and the older woman tells Enola that she will need a corset and “hip amplifiers.” Enola finds the notion of being objectified in this way preposterous and describes the corset as a symbol of oppression. However, she also later admits that it has its uses (she hides money in it and it also stops a knife from stabbing her).
We see Enola in her undergarments (large bloomers and an undershirt) several times, and she also tightens her corset in a few scenes. Some dresses show cleavage. Enola becomes embarrassed when a young man sees her bloomers drying on a rack. Enola dresses as a male to disguise her appearance several times.
Men kiss women on their hands. Enola hugs Lord Tewksbury a few times as an innocent romance perhaps begins to blossom.
Enola was trained in the martial art of jujitsu, and we see her and others sparring in several scenes. She uses her skills to fight a man who keeps pursuing and attempting to kill her. In one wince-worthy scene, he hits her in the face and kicks her in the stomach. In another, he nearly manages to drown her (which she prevents by going limp and pretending as though he succeeded) and attempts to stab her with a knife. Elsewhere, he hits her in the head with the butt of a rifle, causing her to bleed.
People repeatedly try to kill Tewksbury. The mysterious man tries to throw him off a train, strangles him with a metal garrote, and shoots at him and Enola with a gun. We learn that Tewksbury’s father was murdered and that Tewksbury himself narrowly escaped being killed when a falling tree branch nearly crushed him.
A man is knocked down, and he hits his head on a wooden carving, causing him to bleed and, soon after, die. A woman shoots a boy with a gun (though he is unharmed due to a metal breastplate hidden under his clothes).
[Spoiler Warning] Enola discovers gunpowder and several bombs at the meeting place of a women’s suffrage movement, and it’s pretty clearly implied that the group hiding them intends to use them.
A man is hit in the head with a tea kettle. A girl is slapped across the face by a grown woman. Two teens jump from a moving train. A girl falls off her bike. Someone plots the murder of a person very close to that character.
We hear three uses of “h—” and one of “d–n.” We also hear the British expletive “bloody” three times. God’s name is misused thrice.
Some men smoke pipes and drink sherry. Someone talks about Sherlock’s favorite type of tobacco.
[Spoiler Warning] Eudoria is a radical feminist in the fight for women’s suffrage—and the film suggests that she’s willing to use violent tactics to affect change in people’s attitudes toward women’s independence and voting. She defends her position, saying that sometimes “you have to make a little noise” in order to be heard, but her actions actually cross into terrorism (she builds multiple bombs and makes plans with other suffragettes to blow up key locations in England). And although she apologizes to Enola for abandoning her without so much as a word, the film still invites viewers to sympathize with Eudoria’s violent justification for her actions.
In Mycroft’s desire to turn Enola into a proper lady, he ignores the girl’s wishes, yelling at her and making her cry several times. He makes an offhand comment about feminists being senile and also expresses his dislike of having uneducated voters.
Enola draws several rude caricatures of people who irritate her. A snooty storeowner refuses to serve Enola until she sees that the girl has lots of money. She later turns Enola into the police when she realizes there is a reward for finding the girl. A teahouse illegally has several banned books on its shelves. Enola disguises herself as a widow because, she opines, people generally try to avoid anything to do with death. Two teens steal an automobile.
A woman considers the land of her ancestral home to be hers to protect for the sake of England. However, she eventually takes this ideal to a radical extreme.
If there’s one thing to learn from Enola Holmes, it’s that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely.
Enola feels lost and abandoned when her mother disappears, especially when her two older brothers (whom she’s always looked up to) don’t even recognize her when she picks them up at the train station.
However, being alone allows Enola to choose her own path. She realizes that she doesn’t have to follow every whim of Mycroft, nor does she have to follow in Sherlock’s exact footsteps. She also isn’t bound to Lord Tewksbury either, who carries a torch for her. She is free to choose a future that is entirely her own and to share it with whomever she pleases—a revolutionary expression of individualism in a society that more often than not valued conformity and social rigidity instead.
[Spoiler Warning] Unfortunately, that fierce advocacy for Enola’s independence is ultimately tainted by Eudoria’s extremist ties. Eudoria is adamant about shaping a future where women’s values, vote and personal freedom are the equal of men’s. A woman isn’t defined by corsets and male-focused behaviors, she insists, but by her heart and skill and passion—likeable traits Enola has in spades. But her methods are left wanting since the film implies that she is willing to go so far as to use bombs to make herself heard.
And while we can all be grateful that Eudoria taught her daughter self-defense, it’s still rather difficult to watch Enola get beaten up and nearly killed by a man much older, larger and stronger than her.
So, while Enola Holmes delivers mostly positive messages about individuality, equality and freedom, families should also be cautious about the violence portrayed and the willingness to go to terrible extremes to achieve one’s ideals.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.