On September 10, the year of 2020 once again proved it was terrible with the passing of fierce, dynamic Dame Diana Rigg. While rightly remembered for her legendary role as Emma Peel in the British series The Avengers (which is a must-see, in my opinion), Rigg’s talents couldn’t be confined to the small screen, as evidenced by her extensive and award-winning stage career and a string of fun, interesting films, like The Assassination Bureau, Theatre of Blood, Evil Under the Sun, and The Great Muppet Caper.
The film that best illustrates why I adore Rigg, though, is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the 1969 Bond movie that has been retroactively declared one of the series’s highlights. Ever since I saw it a year ago, OHMSS and Rigg’s performance have haunted me. Her introductory scene alone is the kind of cinematic memory I’ll never forget, her hair blowing in the wind and her face anguished as she walks deeper into the moonlit ocean, unaware that Bond is gazing at her through a telescope. We don’t know her name or anything about her, but right away we can feel the deep pain she is carrying.
As Tracy di Vincenzo Draco, the love of Bond’s life, Rigg makes it easy to believe that the womanizing 007 would be willing to leave the Secret Service behind and commit to one woman. Steely and rebellious yet also warm and vulnerable, Tracy is, in some ways, similar to Emma Peel: she can fight off henchmen; she knows how to put Bond in his place; and she confronts misogyny with an arched eyebrow and a well-timed quip, such as when her father tells her to obey her new husband and she sarcastically replies, “But of course I will… as I always obeyed you.”
Tracy’s emotional complexity and Rigg’s poignant and nuanced performance are the beating, bruised heart of OHMSS and perhaps even the overall James Bond series, a franchise that typically avoids romance. Paired with George Lazenby’s stellar work as the super spy, Bond and Tracy emerge as lost souls finding unexpected salvation in one another. It seems strange to say that a Bond movie could break your heart, but the ending of OHMSS thoroughly destroys me every time. Leaving their wedding reception, the newlyweds are happily, flirtatiously discussing their future when they decide to pull their car over for a minute. Suddenly, Blofeld and his lackey Irma Bunt drive by with a spray of bullets and disappear, seemingly missing their targets. But then Bond looks at Tracy and the bullet hole in the windshield. Holding her lifeless body, he kisses her wedding ring, the one he just placed on her finger, and says through tears the film’s devastating last line, “We have all the time in the world.”
In his recent tribute to his co-star, Lazenby wrote, “She undoubtedly raised my acting game when we made On Her Majesty’s Secret Service together… As my new bride, Tracy Bond, I wept for her loss. Now, upon hearing of Dame Diana’s death, I weep again.” Diana Rigg was more than a Bond Girl or an Avenger. She was a feminist icon, a style queen, an astonishing actress, and, to be frank, one hell of a woman. To know that she is gone is dreadful, but to remember the legendary work she left behind is comforting.
Michaela Owens is thrilled to be the editor of A Place for Film, in addition to being IU Cinema’s Publications Editor. An IU graduate with a BA in Communication and Culture and an MA in Cinema and Media Studies, she has also been a volunteer usher at IU Cinema since 2016. She never stops thinking about classic Hollywood, thanks to her mother’s introduction to it, and she likes to believe she is an expert on Katharine Hepburn and Esther Williams.