Is Enola Holmes Based on a True Story?

Indisputably, Sherlock Holmes rules the roost of detective fiction. It should surprise no one, then, that Hollywood has often scrambled to bring Sherlock to life on the big and small screen. But ‘Enola Holmes’ skews different. Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ brings a feminist perspective to the fore and keeps Sherlock himself in the periphery; it tells the tale of the famed detective’s sister, Enola – and it tells it with immense flair. With ‘Enola Holmes’, director Harry Bradbeer’s intentions were to create a feminist triumph for the likes of ‘little Fleabags’ – ‘Fleabag’ was notably Bradbeer’s claim to fame.

In 19th century England, where universal suffrage and women’s rights hang in the balance, Enola Holmes comes of age. Her mother, Eudoria, has left Enola to her own devices and taken off in a shroud of mystery. Enola relies on her distinctively outlandish education, her inherent sleuthing abilities, and a bit of luck to uncover the fascinating mystery of her mother’s disappearance. The Netflix original stars the cream of the Hollywood crop – Millie Bobby Brown, Helena Bonham Carter, Sam Claflin, Henry Cavill, and Fiona Shaw. 

Is Enola Holmes a True Story?

No, ‘Enola Holmes’ is not based on a true story and is a work of complete fiction. The film is based on the pastiche by famed young-adult author, Nancy Springer, which, in turn, is predicated on the canon of Sherlock Holmes. The film is adapted from the first book in the Enola Holmes Mysteries series – The Case of the Missing Marquess. The inspiration for ‘Enola Holmes’ struck Springer in the form of a call from an editor. Springer’s long-time editor planted the germ of an incredible idea when he requested she come up with a gripping tale set in dark and dreary 19th-century London at the time of Jack the Ripper.

When Springer hunted around for a classic 19-century story in need of a modern twist, the answer was clear as crystal – Sherlock Holmes. And in keeping with the current intersectional feminist times, Springer wanted to reinvent the Holmes family from a female perspective. Springer realized that ascribing to Sherlock a wife would prove scandalous, and so, the idea for a sister, ‘Enola Holmes’ was born. 

The works of Doyle had serendipitously caught, and held, Springer’s attention from a young age. Springer explained, “When I was a child and read my mother’s set of The Complete Works of Conan Doyle, I reread the Sherlock Holmes stories until I had all but memorized them, and was frustrated I could find no more.” Yet, Springer remained still acutely aware of the misogyny that pervaded Doyle’s works and ‘Sherlock Holmes’, in particular. 

Her decision to deride that misogyny by basing her pastiche on a female Holmes character was a conscious and explicit one. Springer unpacked, “…while Doyle was a very good writer, he was also quite a misogynist. Occasionally and with difficulty he represents women positively, but much more often he has Holmes dismiss them as hopelessly vapid, hysterical, and illogical. I exploited with glee Sherlock’s complete ignorance of the feminine sphere of Victorian society.”

Springer’s adaptation is also not an impersonal one. Springer revealed that the core of ‘The Enola Holmes Mysteries’ was derived from her own life experiences, especially those surrounding her mother. Springer’s mother, akin to Eudoria, was artistically-inclined and made a living painting portraits of pets; the book’s Eudoria paints several bewitching watercolor illustrations of flowers and even disguises codes within them. Eudoria’s real-life counterpart also endured a late-stage pregnancy – she was 54 when Springer turned 14; in the adaptation, Eudoria is showcased as being 50 at the time of giving birth to Enola. 

But perhaps the most glaring resemblance, however, lies in their disposition. Springer described her mother as ‘absent-minded when it came to [her] needs’. Enola’s mother, too, runs off to join the Romani people, leaving Enola to fend for herself (the film depicts this slightly differently, showing Eudoria to have run off to join a band of militant suffragettes). 

All in all, with ‘Enola Holmes’, Springer proves that Enola is ‘just as real as Sherlock’. Enola’s adventures don’t end with ‘The Case of the Missing Marquess’ – in fact, they’re just beginning to take flight. Netflix and Bradbeer’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is only one film in what could prove to be a long-lasting franchise.

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