Performance of the Week #5: Natalie Dormer
When it comes to creating a nemesis for a character like Sherlock Holmes, certain prerequisites need to be met: they need to be able to at least match his intellect and/or use it against him, they need to be able to face off against the great Holmes and not look ridiculous and inferior, and they need to be able to provide a true, palpable threat not just to Sherlock but to those around him. It’s not easy, but with the BBC’s version of the show, they found the right brand of crazy-yet-brilliant in Andrew Scott’s version of Moriarty, and for Elementary, they found someone different, but every bit as dangerous.
In last week’s episode, Irene Adler–aka Sherlock’s one and only true love–ostensibly returned after being presumed dead for several years. It broke Sherlock to pieces to see her alive again, but he regained himself quickly and immediately set about protecting her from the great Moriarty, the criminal mastermind who had constructed the elaborate abduction and subsequent mental torture of Irene before throwing her back into the wild. But as it turned out, Irene and Moriarty were one in the same.
Over the course of the two-part finale, we saw at least three versions of Irene: the pre-present day version, a restorer/thief of precious art who captured Sherlock under her spell before disappearing, presumed dead; the present day Irene, released back into the wild after years of captivity, dazed, confused and vulnerable; and Moriarty, a cold, manipulative, calculating criminal more than capable of committing vile, heinous acts without batting an eyelid. Natalie Dormer quite literally put in a multifaceted performance as Irene, and each one was played sublimely.
Natalie Dormer plays the legendary role of Moriarty as wonderfully as I would have expected. What works about this twist on the Moriarty role is that it hits Sherlock harder than anything else would have; his one true love is the one most capable of killing him and anyone he cares about. Irene’s relationship with Sherlock was merely an experiment, as she informs him rather cruelly, and Dormer plays Moriarty with the adequate amount of intelligent, cunning genius that a role like it requires, ticking off all of the prerequisites of the Moriarty role and then some.
Last week was Jonny Lee Miller’s time to excel in his performance, and this week was Dormer’s. Her scenes with Miller, and even Lucy Liu (the tension oozing from that dinner scene was incredible), were electrifying because her version of Moriarty could literally slit their throats on the spot and not blink twice. She exuberates a chilling malice that makes her a viable threat against somebody like Sherlock, and when they made the decision to have Irene be Moriarty, they were lucky to have somebody like Natalie Dormer on hand to make it succeed.
When I first heard that Dormer would be playing Irene Adler, I was thrilled. Thrilled because she is a superb actress who, on Game of Thrones, plays her character with a fine balance of innocence and cunning intellect. She played three versions of her character in Elementary’s season finale, and all of them hit the bullseye. She is Moriarty, and after witnessing what she managed to achieve with the role, the decision to have her be Sherlock’s most fearsome enemy was an overwhelming success.