The estate of Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle has announced that it is suing streaming platform Netflix for their depiction of the famous detective in the recently released film Enola Holmes. The Conan Doyle estate alleges that the both the original Enola novels’ and the film’s depiction of Sherlock Holmes (as portrayed by Man of Steel and The Witcher’s Henry Cavill) uses personality traits which Holmes did not develop until Conan Doyle’s later stories, which have not yet entered the public domain.
Of the approximately sixty works which Conan Doyle wrote featuring Holmes, all but the last few have become public domain works, with copyright no longer held by Conan Doyle’s estate. However, the copyrights of the last few stories – collected as The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes – will not expire until 2022.
The estate alleges in their complaint that Holmes is an “aloof and unemotional” character in the early, public domain stories, citing his cool treatment of close companion Dr. Watson and general distaste for women. They argue that the Enola Holmes books and film’s use of a warmer, more emotional Sherlock, who cares deeply for his sister, infringes on the copyright of the later stories.
According to the estate, the warmer Holmes, who cared for Watson and treated women with respect, was created in the later stories following Conan Doyle’s tragic experiences in World War I. The complaint cites the short stories The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane and The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier as proof that Holmes’ personality changed significantly.
The complaint lists the defendants as Nancy Springer, the author of the Enola Holmes book series, as well as its publisher Penguin Random House, the film’s director Harry Bradbeer, screenwriter Jack Thorne, and Netflix itself. Cavill, who played the role, is not listed among the defendants.
When asked by GQ Magazine for his thoughts regarding the case, Cavill – who is currently in the UK filming the second season of The Witcher, also for Netflix – admitted that “Honestly, I don’t have a take on it.” He felt that legal issues were “above [his] pay grade” but admitted that he was not surprised by the lawsuit. He concluded the interview with a laugh: “Haha. Nothing surprises me anymore.”
Previously, the Conan Doyle estate has sued other adaptations for “incorrect” portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Most recently, in 2015, studio Miramax settled when the Conan Doyle estate objected to their using an elderly Holmes in the film Mr. Holmes. Whether or not this lawsuit will have a similar conclusion is not yet known – although, as many fans and journalists alike have pointed out, if the Conan Doyle estate doesn’t want an affable, kind Holmes on screen, shouldn’t they have objected to the casting of the consistently charming Cavill?