There's always some pressure when adapting an age-old story for a new audience. The recently released Netflix movie, Enola Holmes, takes on that challenge by telling the story of Sherlock's younger sister, a mystery-solver in her own right. Set in 1884 England, Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) sets out to find her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who has mysteriously disappeared. She takes on various disguises to both gain access to the world around her and to avoid the careful oversight of her brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin).
Veteran costume designer Consolata Boyle was unfazed by the prospect of recreating such beloved characters. In fact, she took it as an opportunity to modernize the tale, while making it accessible for younger, new viewers.
"It was always there in the background, but I wanted to find a new way of looking and investigating the Holmes character," she noted. "So I was very keen to find a new path and to find a new way of referencing [the original stories]."
Boyle was also comfortable with a period production—she previously helmed the wardrobe for 2006's The Queen and 2011's The Iron Lady. T&C sat down with the Oscar-nominated costumer, chatting about Enola's many disguises, creating gowns fit for fight scenes, and working with such an all-star cast.
How much historical research did you do when preparing for Enola Holmes?
I did a lot, and it’s something I always do. It’s how I work my way into the story. I know the period quite well, but I wanted to investigate more, and also I knew that we wanted to do something fresh, but while slightly subverting and reinventing it, and making it relevant and powerful for today’s audience. So, the research was incredibly important because it’s a wonderful bedrock, and then it becomes something you refer to, but that you need to let go. It’s always a solid base, but you need to be able to fly and leave it behind when necessary.
What sort of feedback or ideas did Millie Bobby Brown have for Enola? I know she was a producer on the movie, as well.
Yes absolutely, [she was fairly involved] and yet she trusts you which is the most wonderful compliment, a real professional-to-professional relationship. I trusted her and her contributions were fantastic.
Because the film has a lot of physicality, a lot of movement, a lot of quite violent movement for the Enola character, who lives by her wits and is strong and fearless and physical, all of [the costumes] had to move with her, had to be flexible. Even though there was a lot of volume of skirts as there would have been, Millie was well able to handle them and to not be intimidated, and to be brilliant with her costumes. She just literally took over and made them her own and, like all great actors, told a story through those costumes. Her opinions I very much listened to and built them into the costumes that I was designing as part of the whole of the story.
Enola greatly evolves throughout the film, alongside her wardrobe. Can you speak a bit about how you planned out the costumes to reflect the story's narrative?
A lot of what Enola does once she leaves the safety of her home is a series of performances, where she dresses either to gain access or to be able to fool people, all on this journey find and to discover both where her mother is, but really to discover herself and what her role in life is—Enola’s own destiny. A lot of her costumes had elements of the performance, like disguising as a boy, as the gardener, as the widow. Especially, when she dresses in the [red] "powderpuff dress," which I based on theatrical costumes of the period. There’s an element of theatricality in that red that I used—I very much wanted the red, as the color of courage. And then in her school, the ladies’ finishing school, I used denim, a contemporary fabric, to build their uniforms to be straight-laced, dark, and repressive.
There was a progression in that way through the various performances, whether as a lady, a schoolgirl, a boy, or in the powderpuff dress. There is that progression right through to the end—that’s her search and her journey.
I'd love to talk about Enola’s mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), and her costumes. Do you think there were commonalities between her looks and those for Enola?
Yes, very much, especially at the beginning, in the scenes where Enola is at home under the very strong influence of her mother and her mother’s world.
Particularly in the home scenes, I’m using the same kinds of colors and fabrics and I’m linking [Enola] with her mother. You can see that with the indigo blue in the scenes where Enola and her mother are practicing jujitsu in the orchard, where they’re throwing each other around and the skirts are flying. Enola—she’s not dressed for jujitsu as you’d maybe expect. We were very keen that they literally did all this practice and this physical work in what they were wearing. They didn’t change for specific activities. There was a fluidity to how she was dressed, but there definitely is in those scenes, a link between the mother and her daughter.
Around how many costumes did you have for Enola?
There were, I suppose maybe in the region of thirty, and then some of them needed to be repeated quite a few times like the red powderpuff dress. We had to make many, many repeats of that, as you can imagine, because it needed to be made for all of those fight scenes and the tumbling. But, a lot of her costumes had to be repeated because of the physicality of Millie’s role.
If you had to pick one favorite outfit, what would it be?
I think it would be Enola’s final dress. That had so many promises and in its simplicity. It kind of cleared a space for anything to happen. That I absolutely loved. It filled me with joy.
I did want to speak about that dress. It seemed to me like a return to Enola’s actual self after so many disguises. How did you decide on that final outfit?
That’s very true. It’s full circle in that the shape of that dress is exactly the same shape as the first dress we see Enola in: the dress on the bike. So, that was very important to me, that there was sort of a rounding out. But also, I chose that fabric—that silk of that final dress—because, very importantly, there’s no strong color in it. So, it allows for anything to happen next.
She goes and heads into the future—an unknown future—but with all the courage, all she has learned, all the discoveries she has made about the world and about herself. There’s a wonderful question mark as to what is going to happen next. There’s elements of the influence of her mother, the influence of her early life, the influence of all her physical and mental training with her mother, but she’s taking with her into the future that she is not alone, that we are not alone, and that young people and young women must have courage, resilience, wit, and fun. It’s terribly important for everybody to carry that message.
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