The Curious Case of the Emo Sherlock

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate sues Netflix because Henry Cavill’s Holmes is too sensitive

Enola Holmes, which Netflix released last month to critical acclaim, is now the subject of a lawsuit centered on Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The film stars Millie Bobby Brown as the eponymous character, but Cavill’s take on the age-old Sherlock has stirred up the most controversy.

The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle is suing Netflix for copyright infringement. At issue: stories published between 1923 and 1927 that haven’t yet entered the public domain. Those stories show Sherlock in a more emotional light, whereas the earlier depictions of him do not. Enola Holmes, for what it’s worth, is based on a series of young adult novels written by Nancy Springer.

Cavill certainly has a unique take on the character. We’ve seen dozens of Holmes depictions, most of which view him as unfriendly or otherwise lacking the ability to positively interact with other human beings. This, of course, comes in contrast to his otherworldly detective skills. Cavill’s Sherlock has a warm, sympathetic relationship with Enola, which is precisely what Conan Doyle’s estate has taken issue with. The Sherlock Holmes that acts this way, they contend, only appears in the stories written between 1923 and 1927.

It’s also worth noting that there have been other depictions of Sherlock Holmes that don’t necessarily conform to his typical look and demeanor. Most notably, Will Ferrell starred as Holmes in the 2018 parody film Holmes & Watson. It’s unclear why that take on the character wasn’t lawsuit worthy as well, but alas. Holmes & Watson walked away with four Razzie awards, including Worst Picture!

According to the complaint, Conan Doyle changed the way he wrote about Holmes after World War I, choosing to make him a more caring and empathetic person. Those stories, however, are still protected from the public domain for a few years.

“When Conan Doyle came back to Holmes in the Copyrighted Stories between 1923 and 1927, it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind,” the complaint reads. “Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy.”

Cavill responded this week in an interview with GQ, essentially saying nothing to say about the lawsuit.

“I mean, honestly, I don’t have a take on it. It’s a character from a page which we worked out from the screenplay. The legal stuff is above my pay grade.”

The estate filed the suit back in June, and it’s unclear if there have been any further developments since then (other than the film actually coming out).  Meanwhile, fans and media alike have received Enola Holmes very well. They’re already planning a sequel, although there’s no word on how much emotion they’ll allow Henry Cavill to show.

Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes is just so sensitive!

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Jonah Dylan

Jonah Dylan is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist.

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