(Context: the comments of a 'Is Moffat Sexist?' article. I’m DreadfulKata).
I post this because it started an interesting train of thought for me…
Irene’s sex-worker-isation isn’t one of the Moffatisms I have found most egregious (it IS valid to have a sex worker character and I really like Lara Pulver’s performance, so I can look past it to enjoy the episode). But it was a very boring choice on Moffat’s part.
So Irene Adler was, in the story, an opera singer. The debate will go on about just how, uh, un-Victorian her sexual morals were but the fact is she wasn’t defined as a person by the relationships she had.
I was thinking it would be great to have an update that has much the same story - a successful female musician has a fling with a member of a royal family; let’s go with Moffat on this one and say OUR royal family. Just imagining the way the Red Tops would treat this immediately suggests a really interesting story. We may think that as a society we’re a million miles from the kind of stifling Victorian moralising that created the central issue of A Scandal… but an updating of essentially the same story would be a really interesting way to explore how in some ways very little has changed.
I’m thinking of things like how the trash press responded to Paul McCartney and Heather Mills and their subsequent breakup - when a National Treasure has a relationship with a woman the tabloids decide Isn’t Good Enough. Another example, though there’s mass press amnesia about it now, is the way Kate Middleton was regarded in the tabs until William made an honest woman of her and she was suddenly the New Princess Of All Our Hearts. With that particular royal wedding fresh in everyone’s minds when the episode came out, it would have been an especially interesting topic to explore.
I think that part of the reason people are always fascinated with the original story - it’s hardly the first time a female character has been at the heart of a Sherlock Holmes adventure, after all - is that Holme’s attitude to Adler is particularly interesting. His genius is seeing the truth of matters despite the pre-conceived ideas of those around him. So when the received wisdom is that Irene Adler is a villainous harlot, it’s interesting that he sees someone of merit and intelligence.
So Irene Adler would be someone derided by the press, a gold-digging slut who’d got above herself, dared to sully an innocent royal’s name… her personal success as a singer (or whatever) would be utterly buried under this prurient obsession with casting her in a certain light. Sherlock, of course, would forma an opinion not informed by mass hysteria, but based on his own cold assessment. I’d love to see Sherlock versus the press, and it would foreshadow his own falling foul of public opinion in The Reichenbach Fall. All the issues Sherlock Holmes stands for - the truth based on fact, the divorce of emotion and deduction - have a great foil in tabloid journalism.
A Scandal In Belgravia as it stands is a good episode, but I find what it has to say about Sherlock, Irene, John, anyone, is rather thin. Sherlock has a heart after all? He attracts the devotion of all sorts of people, even lesbians? Meh. By making Adler a sex-worker Moffat makes the sexual politics of the piece very simple and straightforward, and makes the story less interesting. I think the version where Adler’s a woman who OTHERS define by her sexuality in an attempt to dismiss her, is more interesting.