A character who appears in only one Conan Doyle story, Irene remains an important part of many adaptations. Interestingly, death surrounds this character in these adaptations, if not in the original source material.
Melora Hardin (Monk) — Trudy was Adrian’s beloved wife, killed by a car bomb long before the events of the series. While Trudy doesn’t fit the mold of a playful criminal counterpart to Holmes, she is Adrian’s soulmate and remains a fascination of his throughout the series.
Maggie Lawson (Psych) — Juliet O’Hara is almost the anti-Irene. She’s the love of Shawn’s life, but she’s actually on the right side of the law, working as a police detective while Shawn is the duplicitous one, claiming to be a psychic.
Lisa Edelstein (House) — Cuddy actually serves a couple of purposes in the Holmes tradition, but here she’s House’s (near) equal, someone with the ability to “control” him. She’s also a love interest, though, unsurprisingly, that relationship ended rather badly. Still, she’s the best example within Holmes Lite.
Natalie Dormer (Elementary) — Believed to be dead, this Irene pops up during a case and is reunited with Sherlock. We see through flashback her carefree ways and the beginnings of their relationship, though by the reunion, she seems small, broken. There is, as is usually the case, more to her than we can see, but as an Irene, she’s merely adequate.
Lara Pulver (Sherlock) — This Irene is actually a dominatrix who uses her sexual wiles to broker information. Like all the Holmes Proper Irenes, she has a partnership with Moriarty. Her game of cat and mouse with Sherlock is diverting, but this is a strangely over-the-top character that I couldn’t really enjoy entirely.
Rachel McAdams (Guy Ritchie film series) — This the best Irene Adler of them all. She’s sexy without being overt. She’s playful with Holmes, but never to the point of real danger. She also seems to usually have the upper hand with Sherlock, but she remains (unwillingly) in the power of Moriarty. And this is where we find our sympathy with the character. I can only hope, if they ever make another film, that her death was as unreal as the other Adler deaths we’ve seen.
The Winner: Rachel McAdams