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ENOLA HOLMES – Daniel Pemberton

September 22, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I would wager that most people in the English-speaking world have heard of Sherlock Holmes, the great British detective of classic literature. Many will also be aware of Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, who appears in several of the stories too. However, it is likely that Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister Enola is completely new to most – and for good reason, because she is not a creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, nor does she appear in any of his great adventures. Enola Holmes is a creation of writer Nancy Springer, who first wrote of her adventures in a series of books beginning in 2006. This new film is an adaptation of the first novel, The Case of the Missing Marquess, and stars Millie Bobbie Brown as the 14-year old sister of Sherlock and Mycroft. When their mother disappears, Sherlock and Mycroft conclude that her mother left voluntarily, and decide to send young Enola away to a boarding school. Horrified at the prospect of having to conform to the Victorian sensibilities of how girls must dress and act, the tomboyish Enola runs away to London, determined to prove that there is more to her mother’s disappearance than meets the eye. The film is directed by Harry Bradbeer, co-stars Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, and Helena Bonham Carter, and has an original score by composer Daniel Pemberton; it was scheduled to be released in cinemas in the summer of 2020 but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic was instead released on Netflix in September.

It’s been something of a meteoric rise for Daniel Pemberton over the last few years, as he has come storming out of the pool British television composers to become one of the most exciting voices in film music. He was nominated for Golden Globes for Jobs in 2015 and Motherless Brooklyn in 2019, received an Emmy nomination for Black Mirror in 2011, and has gained a strong and fervent fan-base off the back of scores like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Pemberton is a bit of a chameleon, quick to turn his hand to multiple genres, and he’s not afraid to be experimental either, often incorporating elements from numerous different styles and influences into his work. What’s different about Enola Holmes is that, by and large, it’s his most conventional score in quite some time – straight, classical, fully orchestral film scoring filled with recurring themes and variations. It’s also quite brilliant, probably my favorite big-screen work by him to date.

The score is built around two recurring main themes, the first of which appears in the opening cue “Enola Holmes (Wild Child)”. The theme is sort of a personal theme for Enola herself, and it goes a long way to capturing the essence of the character: it’s vivacious, spirited, energetic, but also classically English in terms of its orchestration, which is built mostly around strings, woodwinds, piano, and guitar, with a hint of an accordion down in the mix. The whole thing is carried along by a superb rhythmic undercurrent, which conveys imagery of endless summery days, and grand adventure and exploration in the countryside. The switch of the main theme to oboes at 1:09 is just lovely, as is the subsequent switch to solo violin. The whole thing is a perfect encapsulation of Enola’s tomboyish outlook on life, and immediately lets you know what sort of person she is.

Two elements emerge from out of the score: the melody, of course, but also the rhythmic element, which Pemberton uses throughout the score to follow Enola on her quest, even when the main melody is not present. That drive, that persistence, that steadfast sense of clarity and purpose, is another important element of Enola’s character, and the fact that it is all over the score in percussive form really allows that doggedness to permeate the entire work. Two other statements of the theme increase its reach to the expanded Holmes family; in “Mycroft & Sherlock Holmes” Pemberton arranges the theme for brass to illustrate the more refined, masculine brothers, while later in “Fields of London” the theme is arranged in a soft, gauzy way – pretty, lazy, sun-kissed, and utterly idyllic.

The second main theme – and this is actually more prominent than the first – relates to Enola’s missing mother, and to the greater concept of ‘solving mysteries’ that runs through the Holmes family, and inspires Enola to solve the one surrounding her mother’s disappearance. Some have described this ‘Mystery Theme’ as being a little like what a Daniel Pemberton Harry Potter score might have sounded like, and it’s not too far off the mark. It’s a light, energetic, slightly whimsical melody that also has an undercurrent of magic and an enigmatic air. It first appears in the second cue, “Gifts from Mother,” arranged for gentle fairytale textures – swirling strings, woodwinds, celeste – and quiet vocals, before receiving its first major, recognizable statement in “Cracking the Chrysanthemums Cypher”. Here, Pemberton uses dancing, prancing strings accented with celeste, piano, and glockenspiel, but increases the tempo significantly, giving it a mischievous, caper-like charm. In addition, the use of banjos and dulcimers in parts of the cue give it a slightly exotic gypsy sound, which is important to other parts of the plot.

The rest of the score is essentially arrangements of, and variations upon, these two themes, but this does not mean the score becomes dull or repetitive. On the contrary, Pemberton’s arrangements and variations sparkle with verve and panache. He weaves them into exciting action sequences, gives them different emotional colors, and even deconstructs them down and uses them in brutal, dissonant ways to illustrate the danger Enola finds herself in from time to time. “The Game Is Afoot” is a brilliant combination of Enola’s Rhythm and the Mystery Theme, building and building over the course of almost two minutes. adding the theme in in stepwise fashion, one instrument at a time, all the way to its rousing finale. The action set piece in “Train Escape” does much the same, albeit at a breakneck pace, but also contains some notably rich and vivid explosions of brass, imposing and threatening moments of overwhelming orchestral dissonance, a huge blast of the Mystery Theme for screaming horns, and a fanfare-like finale.

Elsewhere, “London Arrival” features another gypsy-like arrangement of the Mystery Theme with a prominent guitar, a dance-like rhythm, and a determined attitude. “The Limehouse Puzzle” reminds me a little of John Williams’s The Witches of Eastwick in the way Pemberton uses wooden percussion and frisky woodwinds. The voices in the first half of “Limehouse Lane” give the theme a wonderfully ethereal tone, while in the second half the cue Pemberton flips the tone entirely, using sinister, slithery string textures and militaristic snares to enhance the sense of danger lurking in these perilous streets. Later, the action-oriented “Fight Combat” is intensively rhythmic, with spiky strings, huge bass drums, and a fascinating recurring pulsing idea which almost seems to be drawn from contemporary hip-hop music, which sounds like it might be terrible, but is actually intriguing.

Some light comedy writing for pizzicato strings, nimble oboes, harpsichords, accordions and/or squeezeboxes, and lots of unusual plucked and struck metallic textures, appears in cues like “Nincompoop,” “Dressing Up Box,” and “Messages for Mother” – Enola is still a teenager, after all – but the most interesting of these seemingly throwaway mid-album cues is “Marquis”. Here, Pemberton uses more gypsy textures (banjo, upright piano, accordion, woodwinds, violin), some of which have stylistic echoes of Hans Zimmer and David Arnold’s Sherlock scores; however, the important thing is the lovely waltz-time theme that underpins it all, as this gradually reveals itself to be a recurring romance theme for Enola and the handsome Lord Tewkesbury, who becomes Enola’s mystery-solving partner and, much to Enola’s own surprise, potential love interest. A subsequent statement of this theme in “Tewkesbury’s Trail” is lush and warm, and features some beautiful harmonies for strings and piano.

Other distinctive cues include “Edge of a Cliff,” which is danger tinged with tragedy, and features a passionate, undulating classical violin texture augmented with a synth bass. “Basilwether Hall” is a wonderful classical pastiche, filled with cascading harp glissandi, harpsichords, church organs, and a rhythmic undercurrent for rich and heavy basses doubled with bassoons, giving the whole thing an air of Gothic grandeur. “Making a Lady” is classical pastiche of a different kind – this is an elegant dance, albeit with some mischievous roguish sounds representing Enola’s personality, but the finale of the cue uses angelic, pretty voices – my word, could Enola be beautiful after all?

Three consecutive action cues initiate the film’s finale. After a dissonant opening, “Escaping Lestrade” quickly becomes a frantic chase sequence for strings underpinned with harpsichords, rushing headlong, breathlessly, through the streets of London. The unusual, subtle grunting sound effects in the big finale may be a little nod to the controversial ‘Growing Up In Londinium’ cue from King Arthur: Legend of the Sword; bravo, if it is. “School Escape” offers wonderfully buoyant statements of both Enola’s Theme and the Mystery Theme, lush, open, happy, carefree, and a little raucous, with flourishes in the strings, a prominent accordion, rampant percussion, and a huge brassy finale. Finally, “Tick Tock” is perhaps the most unusual cue in the score; here, Pemberton places precise sampled ticking sounds (watches, clocks, footsteps, a metronome) underneath a series of sinister orchestral textures, some of which remind me of the music Patrick Doyle wrote for Henry V back in 1989. It’s quite superb.

Once all the mayhem is over the score concludes with several versions of Enola’s Theme, and the Mystery Theme, plus a guest appearance of Tewkesbury’s Love Theme. “For England” is full of dramatic portent and stirring drama, before emerging into a fanciful, florid finale and a statement of Tewkesbury’s Love Theme. “Ha!” is a happy, playful variation on Enola’s Theme for guitars and strings. “Enola & Tewkesbury Farewell” is a gorgeous arrangement of the Love Theme for solo piano and soft strings, heartfelt and bittersweet; eventually, it transforms into a folk-like arrangement of the Mystery Theme for guitars, lithe strings, and pennywhistle, which is just delightful. Both “An Old Friend” and “Mother” offer deeply emotional statements of the Mystery Theme, often concentrating on solo piano, and soft strings, all with a palpable longing quality. The whole thing concludes with a final statement of Enola’s Theme in “Enola Holmes (The Future Is Up to Us)” –fully orchestral, joyous, vibrant, celebratory, and a wonderful way to end the score.

For me, every single part of Enola Holmes is just superb. The three main themes are memorable in their own way, and the way that Pemberton constantly finds new ways to adapt them, arrange them, change the instrumentation, and find new emotional messages, is very impressive. The depth and intricacy of the orchestrations means that the score is never dull; there’s always a new sound combination, or a new texture, just around the corner. Fans of the quintessentially ‘English’ sound in film music will find it in abundance here, and those who were also drawn to Hans Zimmer and David Arnold’s respective musical interpretations of the Holmes legacy will also find that a lot of this score occasionally treads similar paths. It took me a while to warm up to Daniel Pemberton’s eclectic stylistic approach to film music, but with this score, and with his score for the Dark Crystal TV series last year, I think he’s finally clicked. Look for Enola Holmes to feature prominently in my Best of 2020 lists.

Buy the Enola Holmes soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Enola Holmes (Wild Child) (3:01)
  • Gifts from Mother (1:10)
  • Mycroft & Sherlock Holmes (1:02)
  • Cracking the Chrysanthemums Cypher (2:36)
  • The Game Is Afoot (1:53)
  • Train Escape (3:33)
  • Nincompoop (1:38)
  • Marquis (1:23)
  • Fields of London (1:10)
  • London Arrival (2:31)
  • Dressing Up Box (1:18)
  • Messages for Mother (1:44)
  • The Limehouse Puzzle (2:15)
  • Limehouse Lane (2:42)
  • Fight Combat (3:22)
  • Edge of a Cliff (1:41)
  • Basilwether Hall (1:36)
  • Forest Clues (2:48)
  • Tewkesbury’s Trail (1:41)
  • Escaping Lestrade (1:54)
  • Making a Lady (3:16)
  • School Escape (2:52)
  • Tick Tock (3:49)
  • For England (3:34)
  • Ha! (1:16)
  • Enola & Tewkesbury Farewell (2:56)
  • An Old Friend (1:54)
  • Mother (1:59)
  • Enola Holmes (The Future Is Up to Us) (3:46)

Running Time: 66 minutes 18 seconds

Milan/Sony Classical (2020)

Music composed by Daniel Pemberton. Conducted by Andrew Skeet. Orchestrations by Nathan Farmer and Edward Klein. Recorded and mixed by Sam Okell. Edited by Ben Smithers. Album produced by Daniel Pemberton.

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  1. January 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

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