Recently my husband and I watched Netflix’s new hit movie Enola Holmes, which stars super-cute Millie Bobby Brown as Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister Enola. Unusual for Netflix, in that the movie is pretty clean, with no sex or nudity, Enola Holmes is action-packed, filled with beautiful Victorian sets, sassy dialogue, and is genuinely fun to watch.
Unfortunately, Enola Holmes is also packed with progressive propaganda that is hostile to a Christian worldview in at least five key ways.
Tradition is Bad
The central plot line revolves around Enola and her mother fighting against Victorian-era traditions. The few characters who are shown as supportive of the traditional ways such as Mycroft Holmes, the headmistress of the finishing school, and the matriarch of the Tewkesbury estate are portrayed as horrible, one-dimensional villains. Of course, some long-held traditions were unjust and required reform, but we should always exercise humility and charity when judging those who have gone before.
Violence on Behalf of Change is Understandable and Forgivable
Enola’s mother Eudoria, was a violent suffragette and essentially a domestic terrorist, bombs and all. While Enola and Sherlock express mild discomfort at their discovery of this fact, on the whole Eudoria is portrayed in a positive light. She is seen as a heroine who bravely fought for necessary change, with some not-too subtle parallels to BLM rioting in her story.
To be Free, Women Must Reject the Natural Family
Both Enola and Eudoria refused to live according to society’s rules, and rejected the natural family in the process. We hear very little about father Holmes, who mysteriously passed away when Enola was little. Eudoria and Enola lived an idyllic life together, without men, until Enola turned 16 and Eudoria abandoned the home and Enola to pursue political agitating. At several points, Enola expresses disgust at the thought of being happily married (which Mycroft and the headmistress wanted for her). Enola also turned down a romantic relationship with the young Viscount Tewkesbury, who she cared for, in order to pursue her solo ambitions.
To be Free, Women Must Become like Men
Enola knows martial arts, which she learned from her mother and a historically-anomalous black female instructor. Enola holds her own when wrestling with a grown male assassin and eventually [SPOILER ALERT] kills him without a knife or gun. This kind of girl power action scene is biological nonsense. Enola also disguises herself as a man on three occasions, and pays men to “change clothes with her” on two in a nod to transgenderism. Thus, the message is that women must fight, dress, and act like men in order to be free.
Women Must Follow their Dreams Above all Else (even if others have to pay for it)
Enola’s dream is to be a detective like her older brother Sherlock. She achieves this dream almost instantly at the age of 16 and with no business experience, by rejecting the patriarchy and hanging out her own shingle. In reality though, the hated Mycroft was financing Enola’s life and adventures, and by the end of the movie, Enola transitioned from Mycroft’s dole to “reward money” from the Twekesbury estate. Just to rub salt in the wound, Eudoria became an activist and community organizer by deceiving Mycroft into sending her lots of money. At no time does the movie criticize Enola or Eudoria for taking money from the men they reject.
In terms of actual Victorian-era English history, don’t expect an accurate portrayal from Enola Holmes. The Third Reform Act of 1884 (which is never explained in the movie) was quite technical and extended the right to vote to many middle and working-class men. At the same time however, 40% of men and all women remained unrepresented until 1918 when women won the right to vote. While the Third Reform Act was an important step toward universal suffrage, it was more moderate than radical, and Prime Minister William Gladstone used diplomacy, not violence, to get the Act passed.
It is clear that social justice warriors have found a winning formula in Enola Holmes. Convert the masses with charm and style, which certainly goes down easier than looting and vandalism! Although it is clean, escapist fun, it is also a progressive propaganda piece, and at the risk of curmudgeonry, I urge Christian viewers to keep their worldview filters handy. Even better, use the film as a springboard to talk about true freedom, true feminine beauty, the vital role of the natural family, and the pitfalls of wholesale rejection of tradition.
Better yet, if you do long for a strong female lead, in a story that does not assault your Christian faith, let me introduce you to Marianne Patourel. Marianne is the protagonist of the 1944 novel Green Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge, and which was made into a movie in 1947 starring Lana Turner and Donna Reed.
The parallels between Marianne and Enola are striking. We meet both young ladies at the age of 16. Both chafe against the expectations for women in Victorian England (although Marianne pre-dates Enola by about 40 years). Both select a young man to rescue; Enola chooses the Viscount of Tewkesbury, and Marianne chooses her neighbor William. But this is where the similarity ends.
Marianne is not a cutie-pie like Enola, but a complex character with lofty goals and hard edges, who commands admiration, if not affection. Marianne seeks to rescue William by marrying him. Unfortunately, William is in love with Marianne’s sister, Marguerite. Through conniving and sheer luck however, Marianne achieves her goal. Yet unlike Enola, Marianne does not find happiness for several decades.
Unlike Enola Holmes, Green Dolphin Street contains many themes which Christians can rightly celebrate.
A High View of Marriage
All parties honor their marriage vows, despite their hearts pulling them in other directions. Sophie Patourel, Marianne’s mother, learns to love her husband Octavius. William refuses to quit his marriage with Marianne, even though he loves Marguerite. Friends of the struggling couple, including a missionary pastor and his wife, encourage them toward patience and kindness. We learn that passion is fleeting and true happiness is hard-won.
A Celebration of Sex Differences
Frustrated by the limited opportunities for women in England, Marianne bravely seeks her fortune as a pioneer in New Zealand. Yet she does so in a distinctly feminine way. When forced to defend her home, she uses a firearm, with no ridiculous mano-a-mano with men twice her size. She works hard at domestic tasks such as cooking and needlework, and makes extraordinary efforts to retain her dignity and fashion sense in the bush, although her expectations are continually re-set. And while she uses her business sense to improve her husband’s timber-cutting operation, she never tries to cut timber herself.
A Nuanced View of Politics
Marianne’s family is captured by the Maoris of New Zealand, during a fight with British settlers. The situation is complex, and the book manages to portray both the Maoris and the British sympathetically. Neither side is shown as wholly innocent, and neither side is demonized. Although, the movie could have used a Maori consultant, since the native village reminded me of Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
A Balanced View of Ambition
Marianne is ambitious, and her family benefits from her pursuit of worldly achievement. But Marianne’s success does not bring happiness, and she must overcome many obstacles, over many decades. The most difficult obstacle in her life was her own pride, as several times Marianne is dramatically humbled and must rebuild her life with William. Each time she does though, her strength shines through, even as her rough edges soften.
In comparing the two heroines, while Enola will out-charm Marianne any day, the character is based on a lie. A life with no restraints on the passions of the heart cannot end happily. Before we can experience real joy, our hearts and our character must be shaped in conformity with God’s truth. Although a work of fiction, Marianne Patourel and Green Dolphin Street is a worthwhile example of this process. It is full of drama and good humor, while still managing to be clean, escapist fun.
And while the Green Dolphin Street movie is worth watching, the book is far superior as Goudge writes explicitly and beautifully, about the work of Christ in the lives of the main characters. This aspect is severely flattened in the movie version.