“Irene Adler in Modern SHERLOCK HOLMES Adaptations”

“IRENE ADLER IN MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES ADAPTATIONS”

What is it about the Irene Adler character from the 1891 Sherlock Holmes novella, “A Scandal in Bohemia” that bothers a lot of filmmakers and television producers? What is it about her that drives them to enact nearly drastic changes upon the character, when either adapting Sherlock Holmes novels or creating new movie and television productions, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters?

In Doyle’s original story, Irene was an American Opera singer who became involved in the King of Bohemia and ended up outwitting him and Sherlock Holmes over a photograph. The only movie or television adaptation I can think of that portrayed Irene any justice was the 1984 adaptation with Gayle Hunnicutt portraying the character in the BBC series, “THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES”.

But the other versions of the Irene Adler characters I have seen? Well:

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK” (1976) – Irene is an American actress who helps Sherlock Holmes solve a bank robbery planned by Professor James Moriarty in New York City. She becomes a “damsel-in-distress” when Moriarty kidnaps her son in order to prevent Holmes from solving the case.

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE LEADING LADY” (1991) – Again, Irene is portrayed an American actress. In this television movie, she is performing at a theater in 1910 Vienna, when she has a reunion with Holmes and his companion, Dr. John Watson. She is merely portrayed as a former lover in this television movie.

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES” (2009)/”SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS” (2011) – In the two films directed by Guy Ritchie, Irene is an American professional thief and femme fatale, who is occasionally hired by Professor Moriarty to assist in his schemes. Although she managed to outwit Holmes inside her London hotel room in the first film, Holmes eventually outwits her and she is transformed into a damsel in distress, despite her fighting abilities. Moriarty later kills her in the second film, after Holmes nearly interfered in the murder of another employee.

*“SHERLOCK” – “A Scandal in Belgravia” (2012) – Irene is a British dominatrix sex worker in this BBC series, who has incriminating information wanted by the British government. This was probably the most problematic portrayal of the character. In the end, she is not only outwitted by Holmes, but either loses or nearly loses her life to those who had hired her to acquire the information.

*“ELEMENTARY” (2013-15) – Irene is an American former lover of Holmes, who had apparently been killed by a serial killer. She is eventually revealed to be Jaime Moriarty, one of Holmes’ main nemesis.

Now, I realize that producers and directors like Guy Ritchie, Stephen Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Robert Doherty may have wanted to put some kind of twist on the Irene Adler character. But when they do, it is always to the character’s detriment. During the late 20th century, the filmmakers and television producers before them tend to thrust the role of main love interest upon her. After the turn of the 21st century, filmmakers like Ritchie and Moffat tend reduced Irene Adler to a damsel-in-distress, or transformed into a sex worker or criminal mastermind that required imprisonment.

But Irene Adler has never been the brilliant woman, who “rightly” had the last word on Sherlock Holmes since 1984. As far as today’s modern-day filmmakers and television producers are concerned, Holmes had to be the one who either saved or outwitted Irene. Or both. Is there something about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation that these filmmakers and producers find so threatening from a gender point of view? Apparently Mr. Conan Doyle did not.

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