If you’re caught up with BBC1’s Sherlock, you know why we need to know more about the woman who played lesbian Irene Adler, Lara Pulver. (If you’re not caught up with the show, you might want to come back after you are so you won’t be spoiled.) You may also recognize her from playing Claudine, Sookie’s fairy godmother on True Blood.
That picture is not the first one that comes to mind when I think of Irene Adler — and I bet it’s not yours, either. In fact, you might not even recognize her in clothes. Allow me to refresh your memory.
Ah, yes. Hello, Irene.
Pulver talked to the Evening Standard a few weeks ago just after she was nominated for the American Critics’ Choice Television Awards — in the same category as Jessica Lange, Julianne Moore and Emily Watson. Understandably, Pulver was a bit overwhelmed.
“I’ve won, just in my name being read out with those ladies,” she said. “It’s so weird. You never know in an acting career what’s going to pop. I’ve done one 90-minute episode and more people talk to me about that than anything else.”
With good reason. The episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” attracted nine million sets of eyes when it originally aired in the UK — and millions more since. While Irene was a scandalous opera singer in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Steven Moffat made her a dominatrix who caters to an elite clientele (and tweets as @TheWhipHand.)
Irene’s fate turns on the fact that she has pictures on her phone of herself with a female member of the royal family that she intends to use as blackmail material; the royals are not amused and ask Sherlock and Watson to bring them Irene’s headset — with phone attached — on a platter.
Adler knows Sherlock’s plan and greets him sans clothes when he breaks into her home.
Holmes is impressed — supposedly with her mind. Therein lies the problem of this adaptation, from one perspective at least. Irene identifies as gay and yet she is unable to resist Sherlock’s charm — are we talking about the same Sherlock? — and falls for him. Perhaps he is the royal lady’s cousin.
Eventually we discover that Irene is not relying on her own brains to outwit Holmes, but simply following directions from his nemesis Moriarity. So, “The Woman” who, in Doyle’s story, mind-matches Holmes, turns into a bit of a puppet in Moffat’s story. (She also gets rescued by her man in the end, but I will refer you to Another Angry Woman‘s biting analysis for more about that.)
Still, Pulver told The Standard that she considers Adler something of a feminist. “She’s a huge pioneer for women. She totally embraces being a woman. She has insecurities and flaws that make her act in extremes but I don’t think she’s anti-feminist.”
In any case, playing Adler made Pulver the go-to girl for nude parts. “I take my clothes off for a minute and a half and everyone suddenly goes, ‘Oh great, she’s an actress who will take her clothes off’,” she told Radio Times. “‘We can’t get Kate Winslet. Let’s see if Lara Pulver will do a swinger movie.'”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Fortunately, Pulver was offered some more challenging roles as well. She just finished a run of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in Chichester and is filming Da Vinci’s Demons, a BBC/Starz collaboration based on the early life of Leonardo da Vinci. Pulver plays Lorenzo de’ Medici’s wife. “I’d describe her as the Hillary Clinton of that Renaissance period,” she said. “She is the rock, the ever supportive wife, and actually a very forward-thinking woman ahead of her time.”
Pulver dismisses the rumors that she might be the first female Doctor. “Not if it meant the end of the Doctor Who franchise, because the fans aren’t keen on it.”
Maybe. But if Whovians see Lara Pulver and Alex Kingston on screen together, they might reconsider. I’m keener just thinking about it.
Are you a Lara Pulver fan? What do you think of her Irene Adler? Was Moffat’s version sexist or just fun?