On Monday, Hanna, Minerva, and I went to see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It was, like, the first movie we’d seen in the theater in over a year, since most of the shows we’re tempted to see on the big screen these days come out in 3D and hello, migraine! So anyway, the movie theater itself was an experience. As was the wild, glorious, playing-fast-and-loose-with-history, as gay as a handbag full of rainbows, romp that was the film itself. I mean, really. Mr. Downey, Jr. and Mr. Law couldn’t have made the thing more flirty if they’d tried. So really, a good time was had by all.
With one exception: Where the fuck were the women?
See, there were three … let’s call them “female characters with potential” … in the film: Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), Mary Morstan Watson (Kelly Reilly), and a Roma woman, Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace). Regardless of what you think of the casting decisions made, I think we can all agree that all three of these characters are well-positioned to play substantive parts in the action as it unfolds. Even if your OTP is Holmes/Watson — and let’s face it, the film leaves you with little by way of alternatives! — Mary, particularly as played by Kelly Reilly, has enough grit to hold her own, whether you fancy a threesome or just a wife whose sexual interest lies elsewhere. Irene Adler, as a character, has more than enough scope to go toe-to-toe with Holmes, whether with him or against him. And the one original character, Simza, is gutsy and on her game whether it’s in the sewers below the Paris opera house or bedecked with rubies at a peace summit in Switzerland.
Mild spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
What all three of us noticed, though, was the fact that the script writers seemed to feel that the plot could only handle one woman with actual lines at a time. Irene Adler, to our collective disappointment, is dispatched within minutes — “reduced to a plot point,” another friend of ours put it sadly after seeing the show over the winter holiday. Sherlock oh-so-sadly delivers John to his wedding, hands him off to Mary, and then promptly retrieves him again en route to their planned honeymoon. Mary’s allowed to get in one or two self-possessed, kick-ass moments before Holmes jettisons her from the train (and the plot), and the reunited couple dash off in pursuit of Moriarty. At which point, Simza is allowed to enter into the narrative, where she stays for much of the film as the native guide for our heroes.
So it’s not that I protest that the central relationship in the story is two men ’cause we knew that going in, and anything else would have strained credulity. I don’t demand hetero romance, or even equal representation in the cast list … some stories are going to entail more men than women and vice versa. What’s striking is that the script writers clearly realized their female characters had better have gumption … but there was only so much ladygumption the script could sustain at once, apparently. It’s cool to have Strong Female CharactersTM … as long as you only have one at a time? Or as long as they’re split between the good and evil forces? Or in competition over our Manly Hero/es?
This, in turn, got us thinking about the exceptions to this rule in action/adventure and genre feature films. For example, Alice and Claire in Resident Evil: Extinction (2007).
Some other films we came up with included Silent Hill (basically an all-female cast), X-Men: First Class (Moira and Raven), the first Alien (Ripley and Lambert), and Sunshine (Cassie and Corazon).
This is where you + trivia night come in, Harpies, ’cause I want a list of films that don’t assume action/adventure stories can handle but a single substantive female role at a time. For simplicity’s sake, I’m calling for feature films only, not television series, since that gets into a whole tangle of rotating cast members etc.
Cast your vote and make your case in comments below!