Enola Holmes ★★★

"Oh good god—feminism!"

Despite its historical context, Enola Holmes plays out with very explicitly modern politics, as liberal progressivism vs reactionary conservatism, both for better and for worse. The inciting incident for the plot is that Enola's mother Eudoria goes missing, but both Enola and the narrative itself ultimately get distracted by the Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether, a young Lord whose vote is apparently critical to the passage of an important reform bill.

Tewkesbury is clearly written as traditionally feminine, a man who knows more about flowers and herbs than how to defend himself, while Enola is clearly written as traditionally masculine, a woman who knows more about sports and combat than "proper decorum." Tewkesbury becomes your standard damsel in distress, helpless in his plight at the hands of the murderous Linthorn, and Enola becomes his valiant knight in shining armor, riding to the rescue. Traditionally gendered tropes are consistently subverted.

Behind this evil plot against Tewkesbury are old patriarchs (and matriarchs!) who prefer the old way of doing things, who cling to the established order and their thin vestiges of unjust power, and who are, in my favorite little detail, all filthy nationalists. The enemy is not the old guard of the late 1800's and early 1900's, the time the Holmes family was created, they're the right-wing politicians and aristocrats of today's Britain and America, and they're being fought with the left-wing identity politics of the 21st century.

I'm no historicist, I don't think injecting modern politics into historical narratives is bad, but it is obvious and occasionally artless, sometimes as one-dimensional as the stereotypes the characters are written to subvert. And it carries all the shortcomings of modern liberal progressivism: the pinnacle of radical political change is reduced from stockpiling pyrotechnics to voting for a bill—which is fine, bills are important, but when the movie consciously frames the scope of the conflict as much larger, as creating a better world for all women to live in, passing some faceless bill feels like nothing.

It's good, it's an empowering, female-centered blockbuster and it's on the right side of history, it's just the type of feminism that's so moderate that it could only feel progressive in a period piece.

2020

Watched with Alice; her pick. She loved it, so what do I know.

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