21 January 2022

For the Love of Enola

For a guy who likes to think he’s up on children’s literature, I’m ashamed to confess that I had not known of the writing of Nancy Springer, an American writer based in Florida. She has one of the longest (and possibly the most poignant) author profile I’ve ever seen on Amazon’s site. (Read it here.)

Trailer to Enola Holmes

Suffice to say, Springer has been through the emotional wringer, and her life has given her insight into how women might have fared in earlier eras. Writing, she says, saved her mind and soul. In this powerful essay, she writes that she is especially interested in books that focus thematically on “the lost who are alive.” Springer has written about fifty books for middle grade and young adult readers, largely in the science fiction fantasy and mystery genres. A practitioner of what she calls “murderless mysteries,” she is a four-time Edgar finalist, and a two-time winner in the Edgars’ juvenile and young adult categories.

She didn’t come across my radar until last January, when the robot brain of my Netflix queue started insisting that I watch a film called Enola Holmes, based on a series of books by Springer.

How well the robots know us! The film is wholesome as heck. Solid family entertainment. Enola, the daughter of a late British squire, awakes on the morning of her 16th birthday to discover that her mother has disappeared from their country estate. After a short investigation, Enola (whose name spells you-know-what backwards) wires her brothers in London for help, and rides out on her bicycle to meet them at the station.

When the two chaps disembark, we are shocked to discover that Enola’s elder siblings are none other than Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes! Of course, they are the most strapping, youthful, and ridiculously handsome versions of themselves that have ever been committed to film. Mycroft is shocked, shocked, to find their ancestral home is an overgrown shambles. Where are the gardeners and servants and governess he has been so generously paying for?

Well, obvs, dude, Mother (played delightfully by Helena Bonham Carter) has been pocketing the money for some mysterious purpose. She has stuck around long enough to tutor her only daughter in such valuable subjects as physical fitness, chemistry, physics, art, natural history, chess, anagrams, cryptology, and the power of original thinking. You see, Mother values personal freedom above all else; she just has never been able to seize it for herself. “There are two paths you can choose, Enola,” Mother says at one point. “Yours, or the path others choose for you.” Her work seemingly done, Mother vanishes! A scandal in Bohemia, indeed.

Mycroft, stubbornly determined to reenact the family drama that no doubt led to mother’s disenchantment, enrolls Enola in a stuffy finishing school so that she can become a Proper British Lady and be transformed into suitable marriage material. A childhood marked by Mother’s afternoon lessons in archery, tennis, fencing, and the womanly arts of pugilism and jiu-jitsu have spoiled Enola on the merits of learning how a lady sips soup. 

The game is afoot, after all. Enola runs off to find Mother, and becomes embroiled with a dishy teenaged Marquess who is running away from his own family scandal. A scandal, I might add, that might well shake the Empire to its very core! Bwahahaha…

What’s not to like? The actors are wonderful to watch. Millie Bobby Brown as Enola. Henry Cavill as Sherlock. Sam Claflin as a very uncanonical Mycroft. The costumes and sets are appropriately atmospheric to the period. Enola breaks the fourth wall throughout the film to elaborate on her deductions. And the producers stuck close enough to Springer’s first book—The Case of the Missing Marquess—to win my approval. I found the film great fun, and have since been urging my neighbors to get their preteen daughters to watch it. (Especially the kid who keeps telling me she loves mysteries!)

For some reason, my neighbors haven’t yet done so. I can live with that. But clearly someone likes the film. Warner Brothers originally acquired the rights to Springer’s series and shot the film, intending to release it in theaters. When Covid lay waste to the land, WB palmed the project off on Netflix, which unveiled it as a streaming release in September 2020. Enola Holmes has since become one of the most highly watched Netflix “originals” in the streamer’s history, with 76 million homes watching the film during its first four weeks of release.

You know what that means. Just this month, the squealing of fans nearly broke the Internet when it was announced that preliminary shooting of the sequel—based on the second Springer book, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady—had wrapped. I assure you that you can find countless freaking YouTube videos of fans dissecting the minutiae of the photos and trailers that have already been released. Some impatient fans have even cut their own Enola 2 trailers, using footage from the first film.

As of this writing the sequel will be released in late summer 2022. I expect to watch it the way I watched the first one—on my phone, at a bar, drink in hand, while my wife screams her lungs out watching a Roma soccer game. I hope sweet Lord Omicron will allow this fantasy to happen.

Springer has written seven Enola books. The most recent installment, Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche, pubbed in August 2021, with a new publisher and cover artist. I admire the author, the series, and this film franchise, if only because they all stared down a lawsuit from the Doyle estate, which quibbled with the producers’ portrayal of Holmes. The central complaint? The production gave Holmes too many feelings. (The suit was dismissed, probably due to a settlement.)

I’m not saying I absolutely dig this Sherlock and Mycroft. In my mind’s eye, I will always see Paget’s Holmes, or Jeremy Brett’s. But it’s fun and necessary to reinvent Holmes for each new generation. In recent years, we’ve had Cumberbatch, Miller, and Downey, Jr. If we don’t continue to mix up the characters and canon, how will they survive the brave new world that awaits them in the public domain?

It’s interesting to contemplate how Sherlock might have treated a younger female sibling who shared his gifts. I enjoyed the scenes between Cavill and Brown. They felt authentic in a way I had not anticipated. Holmes is present, feeling, and yet still somewhat distant. You can tell he loves his sister, but the expression of that love will always come as a celebration of, and the nurturing of, her intellect. There’s a marvelous moment when Sherlock realizes that Enola has beaten him. I won’t give it away, but his reaction is perfectly Sherlockian. I can’t imagine Rathbone or Brett selling it better.

Why shouldn’t we consider the possibility that Sherlock and Mycroft acquired their remarkable gifts from their mother? And why shouldn’t we spin a series that has historically appealed to young boys as one predominantly aimed at girls and young women?

At the end of the film, Enola observes:
“To be a Holmes, you have to find your own path... I am a detective. I am a decipherer, and a finder of lost souls. My life is my own. And the future is up to us.”

Quite so, I thought. Indubitably. Elementary. Thank God Holmes lives, and lives forever.


See you in three weeks!



  1. Sherlock Holmes is, without question, the gift that keeps on giving. I stumbled across the Netflix "Enola Holmes" soon after it was released and found it delightful. Perhaps a new generation of young girls will find her the equivalent of Nancy Drew, my generation's inspirational figure. Girls rock! Thanks, Joe, for letting us know about the sequel. Something to look forward to.


    1. I'm looking forward to it, too, Wendy. I continue to be surprised just how many Holmes projects we've seen just in the last 10 years. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Joe, I thoroughly enjoyed Enola Holmes. Didn't really know what to expect on this one, but was glad I found it--and later told our kids about it, who liked it as well.

    Fun post!

    1. I thought you might have seen it! I actually think having the book series to draw from elevated the project.

  3. Joe, I started the episodes, got sidetracked (consulting upon the Case of the Covid Carrier) and haven't yet returned. It was fun though.

    I agree about Jeremy Brett. I'm a purist and Brett was as distilled a Holmes as one can find.

    1. It's only one film at the moment, Leigh. Not a series of episodes. So you only have to make time for 2 hours of viewing.

  4. Sherlock Holmes will never die, he will simply be reanimated by various writers, actors, etc. I loved Brett, too - he looked EXACTLY like the original Strand illustrations.
    I will check Enola out.

    1. I also like that the Brett series was often scrupulously faithful to the original stories. Although, occasionally, they did alter the stories in ways I would not have expected. But man, did Brett look like he'd been lifted right off Paget's drawing board.


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