Best known for his work on Fleabag--which won him Best Comedy Series and Best Directing for a Comedy Series Emmys in 2019--and Killing Eve for which he earned a BAFTA TV Award directorial nomination that same year, Harry Bradbeer took what on the surface appeared to be a surprising detour with his next project.
“A family adventure in the 19th century was the last thing I would have expected,” he related. “It was not in the genre I was looking around for.”
But the deeper he delved into the prospects of taking on Enola Holmes, a Netflix feature about famed sleuth Sherlock Holmes’ teen sister, the more he was drawn to telling her story. The film would afford him the opportunity to take the fabled Sherlock Holmes’ narrative and turn it on its head. In the process Bradbeer could give us a glimpse into a dysfunctional family, do justice to a young female character fighting for her rights and independence, connect with young people through her journey, and once again have his protagonist break through the fourth wall as he has famously done on Fleabag.
Plus he would have the chance to work with a stellar cast, including Millie Bobby Brown (of Stranger Things fame) as Enola Holmes and Helena Bonham Carter as her mother. For the first 16 years of her life, Enola enjoys a sheltered yet mind and spirit-expanding existence, homeschooled by her unconventional mom on ways of life, fending for yourself and intellectual pursuits not typically imparted to young women of that era. Then on her 16th birthday, Enola discovers her mother is missing and sets off to find her, becoming a savvy detective in her own right as she even manages to stay a step ahead of her famous brother, unraveling a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord Tewksbury (portrayed by Louis Partridge). The coming-of-age teen adventure also has the dimension of bigger picture issues, including the fight for women’s suffrage rights at that time.
Perhaps even more curious than his choice to pursue Enola Holmes was the choice of its producers to pursue him. Bradbeer said he didn’t know why a director known for Fleabag and Killing Eve was considered for Enola Holmes but he’s grateful for the opportunity. Bradbeer conjectured that he has “a reputation for being able to fashion and balance different turns. For a mix of adventure, love story and human rights struggle, maybe they thought this guy can spin all those plates at once.”
Bradbeer felt one challenge in particular--a delicate balance that had to be navigated when entering the adventure world of a vivid character like Sherlock Holmes (portrayed by Henry Cavill). “It has to feel magical yet I’m a realist. I felt you had to make the story feel magical and real at the same time. I had to hold onto the idea that she (Enola) was a real person. It would be very easy to make her into a ‘Wonder Woman’ if you like.” Towards that end, Bradbeer shared that he slightly toned down parts of a wonderful script (by Jack Thorne, based on the novel by Nancy Springer) so that Enola would not seem like some creature “running across tops of trains and swimming the Thames.”
At the same time, Bradbeer wanted to give this period piece “a cinematic scope,” building “a whole world” that introduces us to “town and country.” Towards that end, he gravitated to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, BSC, marking his first collaboration with the DP. Bradbeer said he was drawn to Nuttgen’s work with director David Mackenzie, which included Hell or High Water and Hallam’s Foe. Nuttgens earned a Best Cinematography BAFTA Film Award for Hell or High Water. Earlier Hallam’s Foe garnered Nuttgens the Golden Swan Best Cinematographer honor at the Copenhagen International Film Festival, the Kodak Award for Best Cinematography at the Dinard British Film Fest, and an Evening Standard British Film Award nomination for Best Technical Achievement.
In meeting Nuttgens for the first time to discuss Enola Holmes, Bradbeer recalled being most impressed by the DP’s nature and orientation. “He talked about the characters....He cared about the characters.” To have cinematography that’s character driven, being able to roll with the punches of what actors--such as Brown and Bonham Carter--can bring to those characters looms large for Bradbeer who subscribes to filmmaker Robert Altman’s advice to be flexible and always “see what the talent offers.”
Similarly Bradbeer connected with another first-time collaborator, production designer Michael Carlin. “If I meet with a designer and all they talk about are sets and not character, they’re not building that world in the right place. You build from the inside out. He talked about the house (that Enola grew up in) as a character imbued with the mom’s character.” Bradbeer said he was drawn to Carlin’s enthusiasm for and understanding of the characters.
For editing, Bradbeer turned to a trusted past collaborator, Adam Bosman who had cut a TV commercial assignment for the director as well as episodes of BBC’s Prisoners Wives, which Bradbeer quipped was “a terrible title for a great show.” Bradbeer credited Bosman’s editing sensibilities and grasp of characters as contributing greatly to Enola Holmes.
Reflecting on his Enola Holmes experience, Bradbeer observed that prime lessons learned were “be polite but be ambitious,” revel in “the joy of working on such a grand scale,” collaborating with “some very nice people” and that he had “far more fun than I ever expected.” Simply, he concluded, “It’s great to make a movie.”
As for what’s next, Bradbeer noted that he recently entered into a first-look deal with Amazon Studios to develop and create TV series. He thus follows in the footsteps of Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge who struck her own deal with Amazon about a year ago.
Enola Holmes debuts today (9/23) on Netflix.