If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, then, you wouldn’t want to miss the movie, Enola Holmes.
I hadn’t read any of Nancy Springer’s books and that meant no prior knowledge of her series featuring Enola Holmes – the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. Enola is Springer’s contribution to the Sherlock Holmes universe; the original world of Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentioned only his elder brother, Mycroft.
Springer’s series falls in the genre of pastiche. Wikipedia describes pastiche as “ a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.’’ The film based on the series, has young British actor Millie Bobby Brown in the title role of Enola Holmes; the actor is also one of the film’s producers.
In terms of narrative style, I felt the film borrows from the post Jeremy Brett versions of Sherlock Holmes, presenting us with a sister whose nature and operational style harks of Holmes by Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch. There is a lot of intelligence, action and a liberal dose of smart. It should go down well with the audience and age group the film is aimed at. Yet for all the smartness showcased, there is also a degree of vulnerability, the loneliness of growing up in a family of eccentric people; not to mention two elder brothers who have firmly traded emotional warmth for cold reasoning. The sister has to navigate her life pretty much on her own, something presented as ambiance essential to mold a Holmes.
The film occasionally loses its grip. But I shouldn’t judge or blame the film because an emergent problem with the universe of Sherlock Holmes is the existence of too many interpretations and related works that judgement comes easier than empathy. There is the true to the old, gold standard of Jeremy Brett and the more contemporary versions of Holmes portrayed by Johnny Lee Miller and Cumberbatch – you keep revisiting these like pilgrimage. It squeezes room in your mind for interpretations by others to breathe easy.
Two things in particular engaged about Enola Holmes. Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes had the same impression on me as Daniel Craig’s James Bond when compared to the actors who preceded him in that role. It is an interesting bit of casting. It left me wondering what would happen if Cavill continued as Holmes. Second, given the Sherlock Holmes saga is now very much off on its own trajectory distinct from how Conan Doyle conceived it originally, the sibling chemistry between Cavill and Millie Bobby Brown’s Enola appeared heartwarming and holding potential for the future. Going by Wikipedia’s page on the film, these hints of brotherly concern shown by Holmes appears to have invited a law suit, for display of emotion by Sherlock Holmes is restricted to works between 1923 and 1927 and the copyright for stories from that period still rests with the Conan Doyle Estate.
But as I said, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you would want to check out every new twist and turn and Enola Holmes is one. A sharp, independent youngster in an era yet to treat women as equal to men, Enola doesn’t disappoint. She has a life of her own. Sherlock Holmes merely looks on, a sort of just in case-protective shadow.
This 2020 film is available on Netflix. Check it out.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)