How Millie Bobby Brown brought Enola Holmes to life on screen in Netflix movie
PUBLISHED: 20:41 27 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:44 28 September 2020
Teenage actress Millie Bobby Brown not only plays the title role in Enola Holmes but is also one of the Netflix film’s producers.
Based on author Nancy Springer’s novels, the mystery adventure partly filmed in Hatfield sees Millie as Sherlock Holmes’ much younger sister.
As Enola, Millie not only makes her debut as the lead in a feature film, but also as a first-time producer.
By bringing the story of Enola Holmes to Legendary Pictures as a starring vehicle for herself, Millie joins the ranks of several top Hollywood actresses who have brought richer, deeper stories and roles for women to the screen through their own production companies.
Though few, if any, have done it while in high school.
“I’ve been there at the very hardest, when you’re auditioning constantly and getting no, after no, after no.
“I’m in a fortunate position now where I get to explore new stories.
“But I’ve never been in a position where I get to pick what I want before.
“So, in this situation, it was very nice to be able to have that.”
Best known for her performance as the iconic Eleven in the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Stranger Things, Millie, who spent her formative years in England, was looking for a British character to play when her older sister, Paige Brown, discovered the Enola Holmes series.
“From the moment I started reading, I saw Millie as Enola,” says Paige. “She’s a bit of a know-it-all, but also quite vulnerable. She’s smart and feisty. I knew the role was perfect for Millie.”
The sisters brought the books to their parents, who started a family production company, PCMA Productions – named after their children Paige, Charlie, Millie, and Ava – a few years prior.
They were eventually able to find a home at Legendary, the studio behind the recent Godzilla franchise.
“Paige and Millie brought the books to us and we immediately understood why they loved the story so much,” recalls producer and Legendary vice-chairman Mary Parent.
“We leapt at the opportunity to bring a female lens to Sherlock Holmes and it felt timely.
“It may be a story set in the Victorian era, but it’s about a girl who is trying to find her path, a girl who is trying to find her power in the world.
“It’s a story about change and about how we affect change.”
Five-time BAFTA winner Jack Thorne was asked to adapt the books and he immediately took a shine to the character.
“I loved Enola. I loved how she transformed herself and didn’t take herself too seriously,” says Thorne.
At the time, Thorne was watching the ground-breaking British series Fleabag, and was intrigued by the device of breaking the fourth wall as a way to get inside the mind of someone, particularly for a character who spends the majority of their time alone.
It was sheer coincidence that Harry Bradbeer, Fleabag’s Emmy Award-winning director, happened to be at the top of Legendary’s list to direct.
After reading the script, he leapt on board and took the bull by the horns for his first feature film.
“I loved the script,” says Bradbeer. “I was struck by its freshness and energy, its humour.
“And the way it presented a girl fighting not just for her own freedom but for human rights.
“I was also excited to break the fourth wall. I’d used the same technique on Fleabag, but there was a particular reason to do it here — and the clue is in the name, Enola, ‘alone’ spelled backwards.
“Her loneliness meant that we were her only friend, she needed to communicate with us. She needed to make that connection, for her own emotional safety.
“Over the course of the film, she finds friends and finds love and discovers that she can stand on her own two feet.
“And as they follow this rite of passage the audience gets to feel that extra bond.”
Paige Brown, Millie’s older sister and a fellow producer, was on set for much of the filming and was proud of her sibling’s commitment to a role which she hopes will inspire girls and young women around the world.
“Enola is a role model for girls today because, despite the fact that people want her to conform to the society around her, she is fighting back.
“She’s operating in a misogynistic world with people like her brother, Mycroft, but she finds her power despite that.
“And by the end of her story she has found who she wants to be on her own terms.”
“I love the fact that she can be very vulnerable yet even in her deepest despair she’s able to find herself again and fight back,” says Millie of her character.
“I admire her courage and her strength. She goes to pretty dark places but she never gives up.
“It’s a big journey for her. She’s quite naïve and comes up against forces that are way beyond her.
“So she has to find her own resources, her own voice even when there is no one around to help her.”
Helena Bonham Carter was always the producers’ their first choice to play the unconventional Holmes matriarch, Eudoria.
Millie was delighted at the chance to act with The Crown and Harry Potter star.
“First of all, she’s a legend, but also, I couldn’t picture anyone else playing my mother.
“Before we started filming, we had this long, crazy discussion about nothing at all to do with the film — about candles and essential oils or something — it was amazing.
“And then at the end, I said, ‘Do you think that Eudoria is affectionate?’ And that then turned into a full two-hour conversation.
“We had these conversations that lasted ages and it was perfect because we needed it. We needed to dig deep so we didn’t really have to ask many questions while shooting.”
Helena, likewise, was equally impressed with her young co-star.
“Millie’s amazing. She’s a phenomenon. She’s only 16, but she doesn’t behave at all like a 16-year-old. Talk about an old soul.
“She is very much herself but emotionally and mentally very mature. We’re quite similar in some ways: we’re quite quicksilver both of us, we’re quite lively.
“I’m probably young for my age behaviourally and she’s very old for her age. Not all the time. Like she gave me a sour gobstopper the other day. That wasn’t funny,” she laughs.
Enola’s emergence from innocence to empowerment is reflected in her changing physical appearance.
After her shorn look in Stranger Things, Millie was thrilled that the graphic of Enola on the covers of the Springer books was with long tresses.
“I really wanted to have long hair for Enola. Sian Grigg [the film’s hair and make-up designer] was able to use the hair in so many different ways, giving Enola different looks for her disguises. It was brilliant.”
Enola’s transformation from girl to young woman takes place in a woman’s clothing shop.
Millie asked for ‘Pretty Woman’ to be played full blast as she improvised her make-over using feminine props like hair pieces and combs.
“Using ‘Pretty Woman’ as a soundtrack to the scene was a brilliant choice,” recalls Bradbeer, “it made her feel free and playful.
“It was the kind of scene I love to shoot, where you’re capturing life as it happens.
“At one point she suddenly decided to pretend to be Mycroft — using a hair piece as a moustache — totally in character for Enola.
“Millie has a rare ability to improvise and play while never stepping out of her real character.”
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