Recently I saw a poll on social media (Facebook probably, I really should make a note of these things) asking people who they liked the most, Molly or Irene from BBC Sherlock. Now, I’m not sure exactly what they meant – whether it was ‘if you were Sherlock, who would you go for?’ or, which is the best characterisation?
Either way, it got me thinking as to what sort of a woman would suit a man like Sherlock Holmes and why Molly Hooper has had such an impact on fans.
Conventional wisdom has traditionally dictated that a femme fatale such as Irene would be perfect for Holmes. Cunning, smart, resourceful and attractive – the character of Irene Adler has been matched with and against Holmes in countless pastiche.
Generally, it’s a pairing I don’t like and find a bit too obvious. But I did really enjoy the way she was interpreted and updated in BBC Sherlock, a bi-sexual dominatrix, feisty and flawed – played brilliantly by Lara Pulver. I also recommend the books by Amy Thomas – ‘The Detective and the Woman’, and ‘The Detective, The Woman and the Winking tree.’ Both these pastiches include a believable, intelligent portrayal of Irene which works very well, but I think this is a bit of an exception to the norm.
Common sense suggests that someone as extraordinary as Holmes needs an equally extraordinary woman to gain his attention. This is certainly the approach I took with my own novel. But what if the reverse is true?
Isn’t it more interesting to pair him up with someone completely normal – not a femme-fatale, kick-ass woman, but a nice, quiet sensible woman? After all, in terms of friendships, Holmes chose an ordinary person to be his only friend – not an eccentric or a great intellect, just a humble doctor. Might he not have done the same with a woman?
This is why the Molly Hooper character works so well in Sherlock, and why I prefer her to Irene. She’s not the obvious choice, and is therefore more interesting.
We can associate with her, understand how she’s feeling. We all know a Molly, perhaps we are one. She is like a female Watson, an everyman character whose humility diffuses Holmes/Sherlock’s displays of ego and brilliance. Molly is intelligent – I presume you don’t become a pathologist without engaging a few brain cells – but also human, sensitive and makes mistakes. We love her for that – and in an odd way, I think Sherlock does too. In creating Molly, Moffatt and Gatiss have looked beyond the obvious and given us a very unexpected, but brilliant, new friend for the character of Sherlock Holmes. Never underestimate the ordinary.