Netflix have struck gold once again with Enola Holmes, as the movie dominates the platform’s Top 10 most-watched list while basking in the acclaim of critics and subscribers alike. The literary adaptation is currently on track to break all sorts of viewership records, but the streaming service still have a lawsuit to contend with based on Henry Cavill’s interpretation of big brother Sherlock.
Earlier this year, the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle sued Netflix for copyright infringement, despite the vast majority of Sherlock Holmes stories being property of the public domain. Of course, the author’s estate still retains the rights to ten works published between 1923 and 1927, but these latter stories will also enter the public domain by 2022.
The legal action argues that Cavill’s version of the legendary detective showing warmth and affection to his sister infringes on their copyright, as all previous Holmes tales had depicted him as cold and unfeeling. The DCEU’s Superman has certainly captured the imagination with his impossibly handsome and buff take on the iconic character, but you wouldn’t have said his performance was an emotional tour de force. Nonetheless, Cavill does show flickers of exuberance and personality, but with Enola Holmes being set in 1884, it clearly takes place before any of the Conan Doyle tales given the notable absence of John Watson.
As ScreenRant explains:
The majority of Sherlock Holmes stories and novels have long been in the public domain, with the exception of ten stories published between 1923 and 1927. The Conan Doyle Estate still owns most of these stories, though the copyright terms began to expire in 2018 and all the stories will be in the public domain by 2022. In 2015 the estate filed a lawsuit against Miramax’s film Mr. Holmes, which featured the detective in his later years (the studio settled). The latest complaint lists Enola Holmes author Nancy Springer, director Harry Bradbeer and screenwriter Jack Thorne, and Netflix among the defendants. It contends that prior to the stories published from 1923 onwards, Sherlock was cold, unfeeling, misogynistic and incapable of real friendship. On this basis, the lawsuit argues that by displaying warmth and kindness to his younger sister, the version of Sherlock played by Cavill in Enola Holmes is infringing upon the Conan Doyle Estate’s copyright.
Of course, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most heavily adapted figures in history across all forms of media, and it seems a little strange that the author’s estate would have a problem with Netflix’s movie in particular. Especially when Will Ferrell of all people played the part in the awful Holmes & Watson, and they didn’t bat an eyelid about him being presented as a complete buffoon in one of the worst comedies ever made.