The 2020 mystery film, Enola Holmes, told the adventures of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister. The movie received the biggest first-day opening on Netflix in 2020. The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised Millie Bobby Brown’s performance as the titular character.
However, the movie faced legal opposition from none other than Arthur Conan Doyle’s Estate! Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the film was subject to controversy due to the emotional aspect of the character.
Sherlock Holmes’ author Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate sued Netflix for depicting Holmes as ‘too caring and empathetic’ in their 2020 movie Enola Holmes. Despite the famous Victorian-era detective character being in the public domain, the emotional version of him is still under copyright.
1. How did Sherlock Holmes develop an emotional side in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories?
Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was a clinical and calculating character. He was the original good guy who’s not a nice guy. However, after losing his son in World War I followed by his brother’s passing away just four months later, the British writer added a more emotional side to the character.
The Sherlock Holmes stories that have become public domain property feature a cold and calculating individual as the protagonist. However, Doyle lost his son and brother unexpectedly, one after the other, during World War I. In light of these personal tragedies, he decided that Sherlock needed a more humane and layered character.
Hence, the last ten stories featured a different Sherlock Holmes. Enola’s and Sherlock’s relationship and its nuances were well appreciated by the audience, but a case was filed because the latter’s emotional side was not available for free use.
2. Why did Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate sue Netflix over Enola Holmes?
In 2020, Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate sued Netflix because Sherlock Holmes showed emotions in the movie Enola Holmes. A copyright infringement claim was filed as the film depicted the more humane version of Sherlock Holmes that they claimed was still under copyright.
According to US law, copyrights last for 70 years after the passing away of the author, 120 years from creation, or 95 years from publication, whichever is sooner.
Thus, many of the Sherlock Holmes stories from the late 1800s to early 1900s have entered the public domain by copyright law. However, the last 10 Holmes stories, collectively published as The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes in 1927, only became free to use on January 1, 2023.
Until then, the rights to the book and its characters were held by the Doyle family, under Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. Enola Holmes’ Sherlock Holmes depicts a warmer and more compassionate version of the character, just like how he was displayed in the 1927 book.
The lawsuit stated, “It was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy…He became capable of friendship. He could express emotion. He began to respect women.”
The defendants claimed that “Copyright law does not allow the ownership of generic concepts like warmth, kindness, empathy, or respect, even as expressed by a public domain character—which, of course, belongs to the public, not Plaintiff.”
The case led to worldwide controversies; however, it never reached the court as the lawsuit was dismissed. Information on whether it was settled outside the court is not known.
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3. About Enola Holmes
Enola Holmes is a 2020 mystery film based on the first book in the young adult fiction series of the same name by Nancy Springer. Netflix has confirmed a sequel for the film with production set to begin in September 2021.
The film is directed by Harry Bradbeer, from a screenplay by Jack Thorne. Millie Bobby Brown stars as the title character, while also serving as a producer on the film. Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, and Helena Bonham Carter also star.
The story is about the teenage sister of the already-famous Sherlock Holmes, who travels to London to find her missing mother but ends up on a thrilling adventure, pairing up with a runaway lord as they attempt to solve a mystery that threatens the entire country.