How the ‘Enola Holmes’ Production Design Team Gave the Period Tale a Fresh Spin
For “Fleabag” director Harry Bradbeer, green was indicative of gender when it came to building the world of the title character for “Enola Holmes,” based on the YA book series by Nancy Springer about the teenage sister of Sherlock Holmes.
The film, which bows on Netflix on Sept. 23, sees young Enola, played by “Stranger Things” actor Millie Bobby Brown, trek from the British countryside to the unwelcoming streets of London in search of her mother (Helena Bonham Carter), who has gone missing. Along the way, she meets Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), another young, free-spirited soul.
Bradbeer teamed up with Oscar-nominated production designer Michael Carlin (“The Duchess”) to create the sets and locations that make up the 16-year-old’s world in 1884 England. They spoke with Variety about their work.
The Color Palette
Michael Carlin: We were adamant that we didn’t want a period version of Victorian London which largely comes from black-and-white photographs. We had an idea that we were going to track this green theme in Ferndell Hall [the Holmes family estate]. That was the female color that we tried to continue through her story and with the suffragettes in the East End in their tea shop. We limited the use of red and used it within the male spaces.
Harry Bradbeer: We wanted to ration the red. I’ve been obsessed with rationing red because you notice a red bus or a red post box, it pops right out. We were leading up to the moment when [Enola’s] red dress arrives. She finally takes on the adult world with a little bit of the male gaze as she takes possession of her look boldly.
The Menacing Streets of London
Carlin: Enola comes from the country to the city. There’s a culture clash. When she gets to London, it’s terrifying and strange to her. There’s traffic, noise and people — with no greenery at all. It’s a very different world to the feminine, calm, green-and-blue world of the countryside and that grand estate.
We built some of those East End of London streets around the [Old Royal] Naval College in Greenwich. She’s in this gritty world of menacing shop facades, and the streets are filled with extras. And as she goes along, those streets get meaner, smaller and gloomier. It’s chaotic and disorienting to her.
Carlin: We found a house that no one had ever filmed before [for exteriors]: Benthall Hall in Shropshire. The chief gardener who ran the place — his daughter was a huge fan of the books, and they bent over backward. They didn’t cut the grass or prune anything, and they allowed us to go in and for two weeks do what we needed.
For our interiors, we shot at West Horsley Place in Surrey. We continued with the green theme here. We had free rein in the 50-bedroom house. We used false walls and period wallpaper. It was a time of the Arts and Crafts movement that was trying to reintroduce nature. There were motifs in the decoration, and the wallpaper felt like the planets were growing up the walls.
Bradbeer: We used the William Morris wallpaper. He was an amazing designer, and he was one of those extraordinary characters at the end of that period of the 19th century. He felt right on character for that design.
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