‘Enola Holmes’ director Harry Bradbeer on the films that built him

Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer on the films that built him | Soho House

From ‘Killing Eve’ to Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’, the BAFTA and Emmy award winner reflects on the movies that made him – and his abject fear of ‘The Exorcist’

Tuesday 1 November 2022   By James Conrad Williams

Having cut his televisual teeth on the iconic 1990s legal drama This Life, Harry Bradbeer has gone on to become one of the UK’s most prolific and highly esteemed directors of the small screen, with credits ranging from Sugar Rush and No Angels to Granchester and Killing Eve. Arguably, though, it’s his directing of both seasons of Fleabag that brought him worldwide recognition and acclaim. Not to mention a BAFTA Award and a Primetime Emmy.

2020 saw him make his big screen, directorial debut with Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter. The imagining of Sherlock’s kid sister’s dalliances with the crime-busting world was such a hit with viewers (hello 94% on Rotten Tomatoes), Bradbeer’s back at the helm for Enola Holmes 2, this month’s sequel to it.

From the sight of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini to the heart-breaking legacy of Goodbye Mr Chips, here he tells Soho House about the cinematic moments that have left a lasting impression…

What’s the first film you remember seeing and what effect did it have on you as a child? 
Goodbye Mr Chips. I was six at the time, watching this black and white film with my friend on a wet afternoon. At the end, as Chips dies, I found that I was in floods of tears. And I was shocked. I couldn’t understand how a film could have done this. My friend laughed at me, but I knew I’d discovered something important about what cinema can do. And I’ve been trying to make people cry ever since.’

What’s your favourite film from your teens that you still watch to this day? 
The Exorcist. Once, when I was 13, I was alone in a friend’s house and pulled this video off the shelf. When the family returned, I was unable to speak. I’d watched horror films before, but this was one I believed. Shot in documentary style, often handheld, William Friedkin showed me this relatable single mother with her adorable child and then plunged them into a nightmare. Ellen Burstyn’s agony at what is happening to her daughter still feels utterly true. And Mercedes McCambridge’s voice as the devil will haunt me forever. The premise may be absurd, but the journey is so well charted that it still sucks me in every time. Genius.’ 

Who was your first movie star crush and why? 
‘Raquel Welch did something to me in her fur-lined bikini in One Million Years B.C., but my greatest crush has to be Ali MacGraw in Goodbye, Columbus. She was smart, funny, irreverent and, my personal weakness, unpredictable. The fact she went for the gawky Richard Benjamin gave me hope for the future.’
What’s your ultimate comfort film that immediately makes you feel better? 
Tootsie. An out of work actor dresses as a woman to get work on a daytime soap opera. From the opening music, this just lifts my spirits. Sydney Pollack shoots like Billy Wilder when he isn’t playing a brilliant cameo as Dustin Hoffman’s agent. And it hides a simple message inside the entertainment. “I was a better man as a woman, than I was as a man.” Now, stick that on your fridge door.’ 

If you had to pick a favourite genre of film, what would it be and why? 
‘That’s a vile question, but if I must choose I have a weakness for gangster films. Why? Because they’re about families, honour, decency, values... and ruthless violence. They provoke more questions about human nature than a lot of “serious” drama – and are a hell of a lot more fun.’
What’s your go-to Christmas movie? 
It’s A Wonderful Life. Now there’s a film about finding the crock of gold that’s always been at your feet. A Christmas film that’s basically Buddhist. James Stewart is an underestimated film star; Frank Capra directs with his heart on his sleeve. And when I watch the end with friends, it’s not just me who is in tears.’

What’s your film soundtrack of choice and why? 
Midnight Express by Giorgio Moroder. This music captures the panic and horror that I felt watching this movie for the first time; seeing a young man’s life plunging out of control as he is thrown into a brutal Turkish jail. It’s dated in a way – late 1970s synth – but, boy, is it immersive. Hearing it, I am 15 again. In the dark and frightened.’

Do you own any movie posters or memorabilia? 
Midnight Cowboy. I have an original Italian edition signed by the director John Schlesinger, who gave me my first job. It’s a bit faded now, and crumpled, but it reminds me of him and when I first watched it. This film isn’t as admired now as it was 50 years ago, but that last scene – where Ratso dies on the bus – is the most weirdly uplifting in the history of cinema.’ 

Here’s an opportunity to right a cinematic wrong; what film do you feel is criminally underrated? Make your case.
The Accidental Tourist. Rarely seen now, this quiet, moving film is a perfectly structured tale of redemption: the resurrection of a man’s spirit after the death of his son. And it’s gloriously funny. William Hurt plays a broken man nursed back to life by a dog trainer played by Geena Davis. Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, it’s the perfect blend of humour and pathos. That last shot of Hurt’s smile reminds me that the greatest landscape is the human face.’

Your smart TV is cursed and you can only stream one movie for the rest your life. What is it? 
Chinatown. Now there’s a film worth revisiting. Robert Towne’s script started out at 300 pages until Roman Polanski whittled it down into the sharpest, shrewdest richest detective film ever made. John Huston is my favourite villain and Faye Dunaway is the perfect femme fatale. It’s a Swiss clock of a movie and I could watch it forever.’

Enola Holmes 2 is available on Netflix from 4 November 

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