Why ‘Enola Holmes’ was the perfect fit for Millie Bobby Brown to make her producing debut

Tribune Content Agency

Enola Holmes has been raised to believe she could do anything and be anyone.

After the 16-year-old discovers that her mother has disappeared, she reunites with her estranged older brothers, Sherlock — the famous detective — and Mycroft, who are surprised to learn that Enola has not had the most traditional upbringing.

But when Mycroft decides Enola needs to be sent to a boarding school for a chance to be molded into an acceptable member of society, she runs away to solve the mystery of their missing mother on her own.

“She’s trying to find who she is while being smothered by her famous last name, trying to find her mother and understand if she likes the boy,” said Millie Bobby Brown, the Emmy-nominated “Stranger Things” star who plays Enola and also produced the Netflix/Legendary Pictures film, which is now streaming. “Everybody else wants to control her life, specifically men.”

Directed by Harry Bradbeer, the Emmy Award-winning director of “Fleabag,” “Enola Holmes” is based on the young-adult detective novel by Nancy Springer. The screenplay was adapted by prolific British writer Jack Thorne, whose credits include the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and the TV series “His Dark Materials.”

“The thing that I noticed first about the script was that it was about my favorite topic, which is dysfunctional families coming to terms with each other,” said Bradbeer, who has long been a fan of Sherlock Holmes. “It struck me that (this film) brought one of my enthusiasms and another — which is Sherlock — together. You got to see him from another side and you got to meet his mother, and better understand the character who was always meant to be quite unknowable.”

Though Sherlock (Henry Cavill) is a presence in the film, the story focuses on Enola finding her own path. The teen sleuth is intelligent, observant, opinionated, capable, stubborn and very vocal that she has no interest in what is traditionally expected of young women.

It was Enola herself who appealed to Paige Brown, the star’s older sister and a self-described “bookworm,” who helped start the journey for the film to get made after reading Springer’s “Enola Holmes Mysteries” series.

“(Enola) really just struck me as a really great character,” said Paige Brown. “Millie at the time was a bit younger (than Enola) but I was thinking ahead and thought, ‘This would be really great on screen.’”

Paige introduced the books to Millie, and it didn’t take much for her to get on board with a film project.

“I just fell in love with Enola,” said Millie Bobby Brown. “When Paige is excited about something it gets me immediately excited. I read the book series and I was immersed by the story. … I was very excited about multiple different things — the stunts, the costumes, the time period. (Enola’s) bravery and her vulnerableness.”

The sisters discussed the project with their father and, through their family production company, PCMA Productions, connected with Legendary Pictures, a studio Millie had a relationship with via the “Godzilla” franchise, to make the film happen. Netflix acquired the finished film in April, when movie theaters were already shut down due to COVID-19.

“Enola Holmes” is the first producing project for the Brown sisters. It’s also the first time the siblings have collaborated on the creative side of a project, though Paige has been working with Millie in a behind-the-scenes capacity for the last few years. (Netflix has since announced “A Time Lost,” a film based on a story by the duo, which they’re also attached to produce.)

Taking on additional responsibilities beyond acting meant “there was a certain level of excitement and nervousness going into (their first producing role),” said Millie Bobby Brown.

“I was starring in the film, so I was focused very much on that,” she added. “But I’ve always been into production, I’ve always been into behind-the-scenes (work). So this was a great opportunity for me.”

Paige Brown had more involvement in the preproduction side, helping to develop the story and identifying what elements of the book would work for the movie. She was also on set for much of the filming.

Unlike Enola, who cannot see eye to eye with her older brothers, the Brown sisters say they “work together really well.”

“I think that maybe the challenging part of this one was wondering whether we were going to have the same ideas creatively,” said Paige Brown. “We never really came to any creative differences.”

In fact, the sisters often found themselves on the same wavelength, which Millie said was very exciting. And she was confident that if they did disagree, they would have found a way to compromise.

Plus, “Paige is my sister, she’s brutally honest with me,” said Millie Bobby Brown. “She’ll tell me if something’s looking good” or not.

In addition to the coming-of-age and mystery aspects, “Enola Holmes” engages with the politics of its time period. And despite being set in 1884, the film has feminist themes relatable to today. While there have been undeniable political gains since the 19th century — fought for by generations of activists, including some alluded to in the film — women still contend with sexism and inequality.

“I think it’s so important for young women to know what sacrifices were made in the hundreds of years before us,” said Paige Brown. “We’ve come a long way from how oppressed women were during those times, but we’re definitely not (all the way) there yet.

“I remember learning about the suffragette movement in school and feeling really passionate about it,” she continued. “When you’re learning about it for the first time as a young girl, it’s so empowering. It’s so meaningful … the things that they used to do.”

Added Millie: “We’re very empowerment-oriented. I feel like we’ve always been like that.”

For Bradbeer, the political message of “Enola Holmes” was another of its key selling points.

“I wanted to make something that was realistic but also fun and magical,” he said. “Something that was fun but had something to say, (and) didn’t talk down to its audience.”

While the film’s politics seem subtle compared with the mystery and action elements, they’re also nuanced. Sherlock’s political apathy is called out as privilege, and some women are shown to be complicit with the system.

“Some people, they need to defend the status quo because it suits them,” said Bradbeer. “It’s not just the men who are doing this.”

And it was important that the film showed the different outlooks held by women of the time period through its characters.

“There’s definitely very different perspectives throughout the film — philosophies of women from women,” said Millie Bobby Brown. “Enola has her own philosophy that she’s learning. How does she want to live her life?”


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