Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional consulting detective Sherlock Holmes continues to lead a life of adventure and intrigue long after his first case in 1887. Actors from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch have since embodied the mercurial genius on screens big and small, and innumerable prequels, pastiches, and parodies across all media have built on the Holmes legacy. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (2006), the first in a YA series by Edgar Award-winning author Nancy Springer that imagines the life of Sherlock’s younger sister, targets a new generation of Sherlockians, and a film version is currently available for streaming.
The adaptation was originally slated for a theatrical release by Warner Bros., but in April, Netflix acquired distribution rights due to the pandemic. Enola Holmes premiered at #2 on the streaming platform on September 23, and by October 4 it was the #1 trending Netflix film. Meanwhile, the movie tie-in edition has made PW’s children’s fiction bestseller list for the second consecutive week.
Directed by Harry Bradbeer (Fleabag; Killing Eve) with a screenplay by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playwright), the movie stars Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) in the titular role; Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown; The King’s Speech) as Enola’s mother, Eudoria Holmes; Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) portraying Sherlock; Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) as elder brother Mycroft; and Louis Partridge (Paddington 2) as Viscount Tewksbury, the missing Marquess. Brown also served as a producer along with her sister Paige.
The mystery follows the brilliant but sheltered teenager Enola as she sneaks off to London to investigate the disappearance of her mother. Along the way, she encounters a runaway boy her own age, who turns out to be at the center of a kidnapping case. While solving cyphers and engaging in feats of derring-do, Enola must also dodge her older brothers, renowned detective Sherlock and government official Mycroft, who aim to send her to boarding school, where she can become a “proper” lady. Enola’s quest for self-realization is set against the historical backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement and the 1884 Reform Bill, which significantly expanded male voting rights in the U.K.
The Game’s Afoot
Springer credits her editor at Philomel, Michael Green, with planting the inspiration for her Enola Holmes series, back in the early 2000s. “One day, Michael called me and said, ‘What I’d like you to do is something set in deepest darkest London in the time of Jack the Ripper.’ I was gobsmacked, but he had an instinct for what would sell.”
Having pulled from the legend of Robin Hood in her Tales of Rowan Hood and from King Arthur in I Am Mordred, Springer said she looked back on other iconic stories she’d read in childhood, this time from 19th-century England. “Lo and behold, there was Sherlock Holmes. For a moment, I thought of giving Sherlock a daughter and then I realized—that’s just impossible! So I gave him a younger sister. I like to read Victorian literature, and I knew there were some odd names for women back then. I thought of Enola, which backwards spells alone.”
From 2006–2010, Springer went on to write six books in the Enola Holmes series, two of which were Edgar nominees for Best Juvenile Mystery. In a starred review of the first book, PW wrote, “Enola shows herself to be an intelligent, rational, resourceful and brave protagonist. Readers will look forward to hearing this heroine’s unique voice again soon.”
The author called her involvement with the Netflix screenplay and production “very minor—occasionally I had a comment on the script. And it was my pleasure to visit the set and meet everybody.” Her first viewing of the film was low-key but nonetheless meaningful. “I was offered a glimpse in advance, but at the time I had an ancient and surly computer, so I waited to see the movie when everyone else did. My son, who lives about an hour from me in Florida, has a large-screen TV, and despite Covid, I was able to go watch with him and his wife.” Springer shared her first reactions, saying, “I knew [Harry] was going to break the fourth wall, but other than that, I had no idea about all the lovely droll Victorian touches, and I was very pleasantly surprised. I was compulsively smiling by the end of it.”
Of star Millie Bobby Brown, Springer said, “I could bless her name! She didn’t only bring Enola to life; the whole thing was spearheaded by her.” After Brown’s sister Paige recommended the book to her, the actor fell in love with the story and knew she wanted to play Enola. Springer said, “My agent [Jennifer Weltz at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency] received a call from her father. All else followed.”
While the public and critical response to the movie has been overwhelmingly positive, the Arthur Conan Doyle estate filed a copyright lawsuit in June against Netflix, the author, director, and screenwriter, as well as Penguin Random House, alleging that the film infringes on Doyle’s work by showing a softer side of Sherlock Holmes, drawn from later stories that do not fall under public domain. Springer told PW, “It’s totally without merit. My books are their own books; they don’t copy anything.” She went on to express her lifelong esteem for the character and his creator, saying, “I have always adored Sherlock Holmes. I practically memorized the stories.”
When asked why she feels that the Holmes universe holds such enduring appeal for writers and audiences, Springer admitted it’s a bit of a mystery. “Honestly, I don’t know. Years ago, I was at an event in New York City, speaking with [late author] Richard Peck. He said Conan Doyle would have had no idea that Sherlock would become what he is, that he’s taken on this mythological status—to the point where people believe Sherlock actually lived at 221B Baker Street.” For her part, Springer said, readers have asked her, “Did Sherlock really have a younger sister?,” to which the author replies, “She’s as real as he is!”
For fans who are in suspense about the timing of potential movie sequels, Springer said, “I think that may be up to the Covid virus. I know Harry Bradbeer and Millie Bobby Brown and I would love to do it—but it all depends!”