It was a little over 2 years ago that we reviewed the first installment in what is allegedly becoming a bit of a franchise, Enola Holmes (2020). The sequel dropped on Netflix recently, so I decided I should check out the bustle-kicking badass younger sister of Sherlock Holmes once more and see if the idea still holds up.
The good news: The film is a fun little romp, based around the true story of the Matchgirls Strike of 1888, which is neatly folded into a very Holmesian kidnap and murder plot. Enola, played by Millie Bobby Brown, is able to carry the brunt of the action and most of the plot, even when it’s straining plausibility, but we aren’t watching this movie for a history lesson, so it is what it is.
The meh news: The costumes really did not impress me this time around. Some of that could be because a substantial part of the film centers around Enola going undercover in a match-making factory as a match girl, so we aren’t talking fine silks and ribbons. Speaking of ribbons, Enola’s hair is long and free flowing for almost the entire film, including while she’s “working” at the match factory. Obviously, OSHA was not a thing in 1880s London, but those long, beautiful tresses would have been a definite no-no for factory work, even then.
But even when the investigation takes our heroine “undercover” (ish) to a fancy ball, the costumes just kind of looked flat. Almost no one was wearing the proper amount of petticoats and bustles were definitely not seen on the main female characters. This is sort of implied away as owing to Enola’s mother’s radical feminist ideals and the fact that they two of them, aided by her mother’s assistant, Edith, have some pretty epic fight scenes in which all that underwear would have been a liability, so.
Enola cosplays as a match factory worker for most of the movie, and naturally does a lot of running, jumping, judo-ing, and climbing in and out of windows in this outfit. I’m not convinced the costume department had her in a corset, or if they did, it was very lightweight. But this fits with Enola’s reformist leanings. Thankfully, no “omg corsets were sooooo restrictive” nonsense in this film, either. Probably because no one was wearing them.
Eudoria Holmes (Helena Bonham Carter) is basically the Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight. BOOM, BABY, BOOM!
Edith (Susan Wokoma) has a more structured gi-style bodice that references the contemporary silhouette of womenswear in the sequel, compared to the much more traditional gi she wears in the first film.
Enola finally gets a pretty dress, and she sneaks into the poshy ball where she believes answers to her mystery can be found. Of course, she gets snarked by bitches for her dress being “last season,” but whatever. That pale green and pink is so 1880s.
Time for a dance lesson with the young Viscount Tewkesbury who is still besotted with Enola, but is now a rather influential member of the House of Lords and therefore, potentially a useful ally for our heroine. Props to the costume designer for giving Enola a train holder. That bustle needs to be twice as big, however.
Here’s an example of the fashionable silhouette for women in 1888. And before you point out to me that Enola’s dress was from last season, and therefore it wouldn’t be as up-to-date fashionable as the other ladies at the ball, you should know that bustles were just as big in 1887.
Mira Troy, the personal secretary to Treasury Minister Lord Charles McIntyre, provides Enola with some helpful advice at the ball, while wearing a really nice dress. However, she stands out as she’s not wearing a ball gown, and well, she’s the only person dressed all in black with jet jewelry. What is her deal, I wonder…?
This is the one really noteworthy costume that Enola wears, but isn’t really showing up online yet, apart from these rather unflattering behind-the-scenes pap pics. Her “skirt” is actually a pair of culottes with a false panel in the front to make it look like a skirt. Seen from behind, you can see that they’re actually very full trousers. This was a style that is probably a bit too fashion-forward for the 1880s, but it was certainly common enough by the end of the next decade and carried on into the early 20th century. I actually have a photo of my great-great-grandmother wearing a pair of trousers in this style c. 1915.
All in all, this film is a fun little diversion with an uncomplicated story arc, and is worth the watch if you’re in the mood for something light but not utterly frivolous.
Did you see Enola Holmes 2 (2022)? Tell us what you thought in the comments!
I enjoyed it; in particular the hat tip to society rules when Enola is trying to interrogate a suspect at the ball, and all the society people are aghast that she as an unwed woman is trying to talk to a man without a chaperone present. I do wonder what kind of clause Henry Cavill has in his contract though that says he doesn’t have to wear hats, when all the other male characters are wearing them?
Of course she can talk to a man at a ball, the whole point of balls was for young women to meet young men! Interrogating one of course is another natter. Social rules would definitely get in the way of a female detective, especially one as young as Enola. A married woman would have much more freedom.
She can talk to a man, of course, so long as they’re in the ballroom or the supper room or anywhere else there are other people. Slipping into an unused room or out on to a balcony to be alone with a man, that was another thing altogether. (Unless they were already engaged. Kipling wrote a poem in 1886 about a young man at a fancy dress ball in British India who has arranged beforehand with his fiancee to slip away for a couple of dances to ‘sit in the dark and spoon’; stress is laid on the fact that they are engaged and that therefore this is, if not totally proper behaviour, permissible.
Oh yes, quite right. She can talk to him on the dance floor or when sitting out but she certainly can’t slip away with him! I know Enola’s mother had advanced views but Enola should know the social rules. She wants to question this man a ball is a very bad venue. Anyway she’s rather too young to be Out isn’t she? And how did she even get in without a chaperone?
If anybody fancies owning a pair of culottes that can masquerade as a skirt, there’s a paper/PDF sewing pattern pack published by Folkwear:
What is the deal with the hair? I don’t understand this repeated mistake in films. And I am not even a hobbyist in the area of dress history–most of what I know I’ve learned right here! But my dad’s older sister was in high school and college in the 1930s. She told me that even then, if a woman had long hair she needed to have it up to look “respectable.” You wouldn’t be fully dressed if your hair was long and flowing. (This rule wouldn’t have bothered my dear aunt and many of her classmates, because they had shorter hairstyles–I’ve seen her yearbook.)
It’s also just not practical. I’m way overdue for a haircut, and I have to braid my hair or put it up for a lot of activities, otherwise it will get burnt, hot, painty, or fall in stuff.
That shot of Enola in handcuffs in a paddy wagon– so back then, “snarky bitches” could actually call the fashion police and have you carted off for wearing “last season”?!?!?
I’ve quite enjoyed these little movies and wouldn’t mind more of them, though I do wish the costumes and styling felt more grounded in the time–this is exactly the kind of series where anachronism is perfectly fine by me, since it’s not really presenting itself as serious historical material, but it’d be so much more fun if there had been more actual research that costumers then could have riffed on, especially research into how people of different ages/backgrounds/classes would have dressed. I do really like these films as a direction for Millie Bobby Brown’s career–I feel like talented child actors often are under a lot of pressure to “grow up” really quickly on screen to prove they’re not children any more, and it seems so much less jarring for her to play a plucky girl detective than to have to make a sharp turn into Oscar bait or sexualized roles before she’s even out of her teen years.
“she’s the only person dressed all in black with jet jewelry. What is her deal, I wonder…?”
Clearly stumping to be Trystan’s favorite costume!
Sherlock Holmes mother is a terrorist???!!!!