Warning: contains Enola Holmes spoilers
The subgenre of Sherlock Holmes pastiches in which Sherlock himself is not the focus is slightly larger than you might think. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, that Kareem) has written two novels and a comic book series about Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, while Carole Nelson Douglas wrote eight novels focused on Irene Adler,
And yet, Enola Holmes may the most interesting non-Sherlock Sherlock-books, ever. Like Mycroft and Irene Adler, Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) has a close connection with Sherlock, but unlike Irene, Enola does not come from the canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but instead, from author Nancy Springer’s imagination. With the possible expectation of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, Enola Holmes is singular in the Holmes extended universe of professional fanfic. Her existence relies on the fictional universe of Sherlock Holmes, but you don’t really need to know anything about those stories to enjoy the books or the new Netflix film.
That said, if you are looking for Sherlockian connections to Enola in the new Netflix film, there are a few shoutouts to the greatest hits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, beyond the obvious. Detecting Easter eggs may not be a case worthy of great detectives like Enola or Sherlock, but nonetheless, the reference game is afoot! Here are the best Sherlock Holmes Easter eggs and references in the new Netflix movie, Enola Holmes.
The movie begins with Enola on a bicycle, which seems to be a visual reference to the short story “The Solitary Cyclist.” The story itself has almost nothing to do with the plot of Enola Holmes, but, it does foreshadow one thematic aspect of the movie.
In “The Solitary Cyclist,” a woman named Violet Smith is followed by someone she assumes is a villain, but who turns out to be someone who was trying to save her. The story of Enola Holmes involves a similar plot twist: Someone you think was trying to help Enola is revealed, in the end, to be the true villain. “The Solitary Cyclist” is collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes the “pugilist”
Early in the movie, as Enola is describing Sherlock, she says her brother is “The famous detective, scholar, chemist, virtuoso violinist, expert marksman, swordsman, singlestick fighter, pugilist, and brilliant deductive thinker.” All of these descriptions are fairly accurate to the Conan Doyle canon, but when she says “pugilist” we see an illustration of Henry Cavill punching out someone in a pub. This is a recreation of the Sidney Paget illustration from the same short story mentioned above, “The Solitary Cyclist.” In the story, Holmes punches a guy named Mr. Woodley in a bar fight and describes the knock-out punch as “A straight left against a slogging ruffian.”
The illustration recreated for Enola Holmes features Cavill without a hat, but in Paget’s illustration for “The Solitary Cyclist,” Holmes was drawn wearing his famous deerstalker cap. Intentionally or not, Cavill does not once wear this famous hat in Enola Holmes, which is somewhat faithful to the original stories.
Although Paget drew Holmes with the deerstalker hat on a handful of occasions, Doyle never described Holmes wearing such a hat, ever. In this way, the brief illustration of Henry Cavill’s Holmes punching out the guy in the bar is both a nod to Paget’s illustration, but also a nod to the idea that Holmes maybe never wore that hat.
“The pipe between his lips”
In the same sequence, we get another recreation of a Sidney Paget portrait of Sherlock, this one with the dead giv away of not only looking almost identical but also sporting the original caption: “The pipe was still between his lips.” This illustration comes from the story “The Man With the Twisted Lip,” which was published in 1891 and later collected in the book The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Early in the film, as Sherlock and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) are debating Enola’s future, Sherlock quips that Mycroft “doesn’t need the money,” and wonders if “the government has cut your salary.” Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother, only appears in the stories “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” “The Greek Interpreter,” and “The Final Problem.”
So what is Mycroft’s job? In “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” Holmes says that Mycroft has a modest salary of “four hundred and fifty pounds a year…remains a subordinate, has no ambitions of any kind…but remains the most indispensable man in the country.” Most fans and scholars have taken this to mean that Mycroft actually worked for some kind of secret service and that his salary and true responsibilities were much bigger than they seemed.
That said, in the movie version of Enola Holmes, Mycroft does not come across as a shrewd government agent. But then again, maybe that’s what he wants you to think.
“The Greek Interpreter” and the “The Final Problem” are both collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” — the best Mycroft story where we get the most information about him —is collected in His Last Bow. If Enola Holmes is your first introduction to Mycroft, the canonical stories will not remind you of the character in this movie.
Enola and Tewksbury recreate famous Holmes and Watson train scenes
When Enola first meets Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) on the train, they briefly take up positions that pay homage to two Sidney Paget illustrations. In “The Bascombe Valley Mystery” Holmes and Watson sat together in a train similar to this scene with Enola and Tewksbury, with the caption “We had the carriage to ourselves.”
The slightly more famous and similar illustration comes from Holmes and Watson on a train in the story “Silver Blaze,” which is captioned with the phrase “Holmes gave me a sketch of the events.” In both instances, Holmes is wearing his deerstalker cap, just as Enola is wearing a newsboy-style cap in this scene in the movie.“The Bascombe Valley Mystery” is in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, while “Silver Blaze,” is in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. In neither story do Holmes and Watson jump from the train like Enola and Tewksbury do.
Lestrade and Enola compare Sherlock facts
After Enola attempts to pass herself off as one of Sherlock Holmes’ “assistants,” she and Inspector Lestrade (Adeel Akhtar) compare their knowledge of Sherlock. The agree that Sherlock’s favorite tobacco is “black shag,” which is established a few times in the canon, but in The Hound of the Baskervilles, we learn that Holmes likes to get his tobacco from a place called Bradley, on Oxford Street.
Enola also claims Sherlock’s favorite composer is Paganini. This correct, but only through inference. Holmes mentions the Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini once in the Doyle canon and alludes to him at a different time. In the “The Cardboard Box,” Sherlock outright names Paganini and told Watson “anecdote after anecdote” about how he played. But, in a roundabout way —in the first novel A Study In Scarlet — Holmes also makes a reference to Paganini. Holmes tells Watson he has seen Wilhelmine Norman-Neruda play the violin. She was sometimes called “’the female Paganini.” So, having Enola state this unequivocally is a pretty deep cut.
If you consider Inspector Lestrade himself an Easter egg, he first appeared in the very first Holmes novel ever, A Study In Scarlet.
Enola’s fighting skills
One of the overarching themes of the movie centers on Enola’s skills as a fighter. This might seems like a sideways reference to the Guy Ritchie films in which Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes is beating people up all the time. But, the truth is, Enola’s form of mixed martial arts is more likely a reference to the martial art “Bartitsu,” which Sherlock claimed he was proficient at in the short story “The Empty House.” (The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
This is significant, only because Holmes used his wrestling skills and “Bartitsu” to defeat Moriarty. Enola uses her martial arts skills to also save herself from death. And, in one particular fight scene Enola pretends to have been briefly drowned in order to gain the upper hand in a fight. Sherlock Holmes faked his death in “The Final Problem,”(The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) making the world believe he had fallen into a watery grave at the Reichenbach Falls.
Sherlock says politics are “boring”
In the film, Cavill’s Sherlock attempts to take his traditional apolitical stance when it comes to the major political changes underway in England. In terms of an Easter egg, this mostly references A Study in Scarlet where Watson draws up a list of Holmes’ weaknesses and describes Sherlock’s knowledge of politics as “feeble.” In the larger sense of the story and the character, however, this scene highlights the notion that Sherlock’s views toward women were not always the same in each story, which was, partially, the source of a bizarre lawsuit brought against the people who made Enola Holmes.
A missing Watson
The largest reference in the film, is perhaps, a reference that is not there at all. Let’s call it a reverse Easter egg, but if you were expecting to hear from Dr. John Watson, Sherlock’s trusted confidant, and the man who writes down the vast majority of the detective’s adventures; well, he’s not here!
Although Watson does appear in some of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes books (notably in The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets) he’s nowhere in sight in this movie. Now, of course, Sherlock did have cases before he met Watson. Two of them, “The Gloria Scott” and “The Musgrave Ritual” were told to Watson by Sherlock, but from the time before they became buddies. Sherlock is already a consulting detective when Watson meets him, so you could argue that everything in the film Enola Holmes happens before that meeting.
Which means, the only mystery left is this: If Watson didn’t write his famous stories about Sherlock Holmes, how did his sister know so much about him?
Enola Holmes is streaming on Netflix now.