Review of A Scandal in Belgravia
Oh, Irene Adler. La bohéme. “The woman.” How she has been updated and given flesh here. This is certainly the most loving and meticulous re-creation, and considerably more elegantly realized than Rachel McAdams’s in the Robert Downey Jr. film version (no surprise there: those films were cartoons). Lara Pulver looks like a cross between Dita Von Teese and Charlotte Rampling and is convincing (if a bit over-the-top) as a professional dominatrix – the new version of adventuress.
In retrospect, though I was surprised by the choice of profession, it’s obvious but appropriate. “Professional dominatrix” is really probably the best possible modern rendition of “adventuress.” She’s aided by a glorious wardrobe that includes Christian Louboutin and Alexander McQueen, and by a fantastic hairdresser.
On the other hand, making her gay served nothing in the plot. What is the reason for throwing off one casual pointless reference to another villainous, sex-focused lesbian turned straight and rescued by/for a good man? Oh, yeah: homophobia and sexism, together again. Ugly.
The BBC producers chose to make this Irene fail to outwit Sherlock Holmes in the end, due to her falling in love with him (!) and making a foolish choice because of love. Indeed, he rescues her and takes pity on her. That choice takes away the agency and purpose of the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes, reducing that to a literal few smacks with a crop.
This is Irene Adler!
In Doyle’s text, she was smart enough to cut her losses and undercut Holmes and the King of Bohemia (and was in love with and married a different man), and now she stupidly does the equivalent of the villain speech before Mycroft and Sherlock together while having given Sherlock months and months to try to figure out the code on her phone, which she personally sent to Sherlock for apparently no reason other than to test his skills at code-breaking. It doesn’t make any sense for the character’s motivations. And the solution to the code, again, emphasized that this woman existed only for the man’s story.
Lara Pulver did a wonderful job with the material she was given, although I did not like that her characterization was almost wholly menacing and predatory. Doyle’s Adler was clearly intelligent and formidable, but she was also compassionate. That may be a Victorianized aspect of stereotypical feminine softness, but it allowed the reader to believe Holmes would fall for her, since Holmes is himself very sentimental and Victorian. It also made Doyle’s Adler a multi-dimensional character, always a plus.
Speaking of stereotypical female weakness and sentiment: Lara Pulver’s Adler is at various points on her knees desperate for her life and begging. I suppose that was intended to make the audience feel sympathetic for her, but the obvious ploy disgusted me. Also, why was it necessary to take a strong, successful female character who famously bested Holmes and make her beg for her life? Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t find it necessary, and neither do I. McAdams’ Adler is killed. How is it possible that our age wants to kill or humiliate this strong woman when Arthur Conan Doyle – a Victorian! – didn’t?
The B plot – “the flight of death” – was confusingly handled and basically quite difficult to follow. What is there to say about Cumberbatch and Freeman’s portrayals of Holmes and Watson, but that they continue delightful? Heavy on the melodrama and slapstick, of course.
I continue to dislike the portrayal of Mrs. Hudson. She’s so flighty and grandmotherly. Nothing has improved in her character from the original texts – if anything, she’s become less capable. Surprised by finding thumbs in the refrigerator and always doing something domestic for the male characters. To use Holmes’ own word – Boring! (Forgot your college French, Holmes? You used to speak of l’ennui.) She has a proud moment here where Holmes says “England would fall” if she left Baker Street after she makes a good save. But that comes immediately after she’s been a classic “damsel in distress” rescued and avenged by Holmes and amounts to a pat on the cheek.
The character of Jeannette is so ridiculously treated by Watson. Not sure what to say there. Is it even realistic?
I am also sick of the Molly Hooper character, who is portrayed as absolutely gaga over Holmes (stand-in for audiences everywhere?). Dear BBC, kindly write a woman whose story line is not about sex or domesticity just once in a great while. I do find it interesting that Holmes sneers at Molly’s lips and breasts when Irene’s are basically the same or smaller, yet Irene mesmerizes him while he barely notices Molly. It just goes to show that a knife is as good as the hand that wields it.
Overall, this is one of the more rewarding BBC Sherlock episodes. The Christmas holiday theme was enjoyable.