Friday, October 16, 2020

Enola Holmes (film)

[Enola looks at the camera.]
Who owns Sherlock Holmes?

The British actor Millie Bobby Brown is only a year and a couple weeks younger than my own daughter. Two years in a row she, my daughter, dressed as the character Eleven from Stranger Things. So watching Brown grow as a person, first in subsequent years of that show, and as the star of the new film adaptation of Nancy Springer’s “Enola Holmes Mysteries” has been like tracking my own daughter’s development, as a person, as an artist.

Last year the two of us watched all of the third season of Stranger Things together on the Fourth of July. And now we have seen Enola Holmes. We had a delightful evening, she, the wife and I, curled up on the couch, watching an inoffensive and charming period mystery. The "woke" touches were welcome, after all. The entire affair is awash with the suggestion of a new and better future for all. One can hope.

It is very much Ms. Brown's project and during the credits my daughter expressed a desire for them to make a sequel. Target audience hit. 

The girl as "Eleven"
Halloween, 2016
The film is subject to yet another lawsuit from the Conan Doyle estate, who are determined to protect their copyright over the few Sherlock Holmes mysteries which have not fallen into the public domain. This recent suit ascertains that the character of Holmes as depicted in the film (Henry Cavill) exhibits a kinder, more sympathetic personality, one which was only evident in those very last works created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Courts concluded several years ago that all characters for the Holmes stories prior to 1923 are in the public domain. This ruling came after the Conan Doyle estate attempted to litigate that since the character of Sherlock Holmes was not complete until Conan Doyle’s final story, the character himself could not be in the public domain. Since they were unable to win that case in the courts, they have since concentrated on prosecuting any example of Holmes’ character or history derived from the remaining copyrighted works.

Funny, the magazine GQ asked Cavill about the lawsuit, which is like asking a guy on the assembly line about an announced automotive recall. “It’s a character from a page which we worked out from the screenplay,” Cavill explained, with evident patience, adding: “The legal stuff is above my pay grade.” 

I would like to make it clear, I think copyright is important. And I believe things should eventually fall into the public domain. As long as we live in a capitalistic system, artists must reap the benefit of their work. It is also important for other artists to have the opportunity to reshape and reinterpret pre-existing work. Lawyers figure these things out, that is what lawyers do. It is, as the man said, above my pay grade. 

Susan Wokoma, Henry Cavill
Timeless social commentary in "Enola Holmes"
(Netflix, 2020)

I myself have adapted a couple of public domain novels, and created an original story using characters created by Conan Doyle. This has all been done legally, and I am also happy to protect my copyright over my own adaptations and interpretations.

Shortly after the movie premiered on Netflix, playwright Emily McClain (Slaying Holoferenes) posted an hilarious and pointed Twitter rant thread that began, “I need an ‘I Was Tricked Into Watching Enola Holmes Support Group.’”

A lot of my own friends posted positive notices about the film on Facebook, but McClain’s friends were telling her (her words), “Watch this! It’s so you! You could have written this! You’ll love it! It’s right up your alley!”
"Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street"
(Great Lakes Theater, 2020)

Pointing out works by others that we “could have written” is one of those unwittingly irritating things friends of playwrights who aren’t themselves playwrights like to say, along with (my words) “I have a great idea for a play I’d like you to write,” and suggesting, “That’s your next play!” after we report absolutely any trivial thing that has happened to us. 

My daughter got elbowed in the face on the playing field the other night. "That's your next play!"

McClain admits she does like to write plays about “plucky female characters subverting social expectations” but was brought short on the romantic subplot of the Eola Holmes movie, which appears nowhere in Spinger’s novels. The adapted screenplay, it should be noted, was written by a man.

Hot London Action
"Enola Holmes" (Netflix, 2020)
This was a particular concern of mine when putting together Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street. I wanted a female narrator, but under no circumstances did I want any romance in the script. I also knew having Young Vicky appear at Holmes’ flat unattended might be ahistorical, and that adults watching with children may be made uncomfortable.

So I just acknowledged it, making a big deal out of the door being left open and that Mrs. Hudson was always listening to their conversation. Moving on.

The new, full-length piece I am currently working on is a two-hander, between two women. Do you know how many scenarios I have imagined to create tension and conflict that involve men? All of them. And I’m choosing something different. 

As the young woman says, "The future is up to us."

Many thanks to Emily McClain for allowing me to quote her Twitter feed! You can learn more about her work here.

Henry Cavill on playing Sherlock with emotions and returning as Superman by Stuart McGurk, GQ Magazine (9/24/2020)

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