In Netflix's new film Enola Holmes, based on the series of children's mystery books by author Nancy Springer, Henry Cavill is the latest actor to take on the iconic role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective Sherlock Holmes. It's a role that, in the last decade alone, has been played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Ian McKellen, Jonny Lee Miller and even Will Ferrell. But unlike those other recent adaptations, Sherlock is merely a supporting character in Enola Holmes, which casts him in a new light as a concerned older brother to the eponymous girl detective.
Doyle himself wasn't precious about people making changes to Sherlock Holmes. When actor William Gillette asked permission to revise the script for a Sherlock Holmes play that Doyle had written, the author replied, "You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him." Since Doyle's death in 1930 there have been countless adaptations that put a fresh spin on the character - from the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes, to the Marvel Comics version of Sherlock Holmes, to more abstract adaptations like medical mystery show House.
Between the original novels and stories and the many interpretations of them across the stage, screen and page, a collective picture of Sherlock Holmes has emerged: brilliant, arrogant, cold, enigmatic, disinterested in politics and romantic relationships but extremely passionate about puzzles. Despite Enola Holmes not being directly based on any Doyle stories, Henry Cavill's Sherlock is actually quite faithful to popular canon - but there are also some notable changes that make him stand out from the crowd.
As described by a curious Dr. Watson in the first of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet, the genius detective is over six feet tall and "so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller." His eyes are described as "sharp and piercing," though they take on a faraway look while Sherlock is deep in thought. He is said to have a "thin, hawk-like nose" and a chin that has "the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination." In adaptations Sherlock is usually cast with these descriptors in mind, and there is a long history of tall and slender Sherlock Holmeses - from Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing to the more recent performances from Cumberbatch and McKellen.
Though he fits the bill of being over six feet tall, Henry Cavill doesn't otherwise spring to mind when picturing the quintessential Sherlock. With his classically handsome face and wavy hair, Cavill looks more like the romantic lead in a period drama than the apparently asexual detective of Doyle's stories. And while he may fit the bill in height, Cavill is far from "excessively lean," instead sporting the same broad and muscular physique that made him perfect casting for roles like Superman and Geralt of Rivia.
Henry Cavill's version of Sherlock Holmes, though still a genius who prefers puzzles to people, has a warmer personality than audiences are used to seeing. In fact, this "emotional" version of Sherlock became the subject of a copyright lawsuit from the Conan Doyle Estate, which argued that Sherlock did not become capable of kindness and empathy until Doyle's last batch of stories. Though Sherlock is commonly portrayed as being cold, condescending and outright antagonistic, the man we meet in Enola Holmes is more reserved and plays his cards close to his chest. Despite not having seen her many years, he cares deeply about Enola and even tells her so - again, a far cry from the "brain without a heart" depiction that fans may be used to seeing. Enola even calls him out for getting too emotional, turning Sherlock's own words back on him.
Sherlock Has A Family (Besides Mycroft)
Sherlock Holmes' parents are never mentioned in any of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter," the first story to feature Sherlock's older brother, Mycroft, John Watson notes that "during my long and intimate acquaintance with Mr. Sherlock Holmes I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his own early life." Watson came to the conclusion that Sherlock was an orphan with no relations, and was therefore surprised when - years into their friendship - Sherlock mentioned for the first time that he had a brother. "The Greek Interpreter" also reveals that Sherlock's grandmother was the sister of French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet, and that his ancestors were "country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class."
So, while the idea of a brilliant detective little sister was created for Springer's Enola Holmes book series, it doesn't necessarily contradict the Doyle canon. Given how long Sherlock went without mentioning Mycroft to his closest friend and companion, it's not a stretch to believe that Sherlock could have had a younger sister whom he never mentioned at all. Enola Holmes even folds itself into the canon by showing that Mycroft, at least, doesn't want it to be public knowledge that he has a sister (he is alarmed when Lestrade mentions Enola's relation to him in public, where they might be overheard).
Sherlock's mother, Eudoria Holmes, was also created for the Springer novels - but having a brilliant, code-loving mother would certainly explain where Sherlock got his genius from.
Sherlock Hasn't Met John Watson (Yet)
The first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, establishes the year of Sherlock and Dr. John Watson's first meeting as 1881. Enola Holmes is set in 1884, so Dr. John Watson should already be in Sherlock's life (he's mentioned in Springer's book The Case of the Missing Marquess, upon which the film is based). However, between Inspector Lestrade claiming that Sherlock always works alone and Edith saying that he has no friends - not to mention the general absence of John Watson from the movie - it appears that Cavill's Sherlock hasn't yet been introduced to the man who will become his closest companion.
This is arguably the biggest departure from Sherlock Holmes canon. Because Doyle's stories were told from the perspective of Dr. Watson, and much of the appeal of Sherlock Holmes is in the dynamic duo of the detective and the doctor, it's strange to see Sherlock without his other half. Hopefully Netflix will move forward with a sequel to Enola Holmes, and we'll get to see Cavill's Sherlock teaming up with his very own Watson.