To mark the release of Netflix’s new film Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown, the popular streaming site has erected several temporary statues around the UK to celebrate the often overlooked sisters of famous men throughout history. The film tells the empowering story of Sherlock Holmes’ forgotten sister, as she escapes the control of her two brothers and solves her own mystery.
Despite Enola Holmes being a fictional feminist character, bringing her into the spotlight in this film explores interesting ideas about women who have been overshadowed throughout history. Netflix’s placement of statues of Charles Dickens’ sister, Frances, who was a talented pianist and singer, Thomas Hardy’s sister, Mary, who attended higher education and became a Headmistress, Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna Mozart, who was a fine harpsichord and fortepiano player, and King Edward VII’s sister, Princess Helena Victoria, who was a founding member of the British Red Cross, reveal that there is more at work here.
Recent progressions in the Black Lives Matter movement have brought the public’s attention to statues across the UK, in analysing how our history of oppression and inequality lingers. The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) has found that of the 828 statues on their database in the UK, around one in five are female. However, when looking at the statues of named women rather than just female figures, there are only 80. In contrast, 422 of the 534 male statues are named.
This poses a question as to women’s place in history, how men have overshadowed their female counterparts in our memories and how we should honour them. When I reflect on the women that I learnt about in history class, my mind automatically turns to either the Suffragettes or women from the royal family. These new statues, in contrast, honour women for talents that would have been enough alone to have imprinted their place in history if they had been men. The female figures stand defiant, facing their brothers with their hands on their hips; they are demanding to be remembered.
On the other hand, there’s a lot about Netflix’s statue publicity stunt that I find troubling. When looking at the images of these statues, there’s a lot about their installation that reflects their temporality. The golden colour of the figures, with their coloured dresses, looks out of place beside the black and well-established statues of their male counterparts. Some of the figures are also over-towered by their brother’s statues, almost reflecting their power struggle and how they are still perceived as inferior. Furthermore, they are, once again, women beside men, brought into our discourse by men, rather than independent of their brothers.
Also, the sister statues are all identical to one another, excluding their dresses. This, consequently, leaves the women faceless and lacking identity. For me, at least, it’s a reminder of how women are given little to no space in our history books, with the actual appearance of their statues not being as powerful as they should have been. The statues also won’t remain there forever, and when they are removed, London will still be lacking in actual female figures on its streets.
I’m not saying that Netflix’s statues don’t do anything at all for the sisters, and I’m sure that there will be passers-by who will stop to read who the women were and why they should be celebrated. However, I can’t say that I feel particularly empowered by their installation, nor am I convinced that young girls who see the statues would either.
The actual film Enola Holmes, on the other hand, has a lot of feminist value. Millie Bobby Brown is becoming a strong feminist role model in the film industry and she powerfully plays the part of a self-assured and independent Victorian woman. It’s exactly the sort of film that was missing from my childhood and I’m sure that it will influence many young girls in powerful ways. Importantly, in being a film for children, it’s effective in making a feminist influence on the future rather than dwelling on the past, as Netflix’s statues can be seen to do.
– Charlotte Weston
Featured Image Source: Still via Netflix // YouTube. Director: Harry Bradbeer