ENGLAND. London. The legendary English actress Dame Diana Rigg has passed away at the age of 82. The news of her death was first shared by her daughter Rachael Stirling. “She spent her last months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love, laughter and a deep pride in her profession. I will miss her beyond words,” lamented Stirling. Even if Diana Rigg had just played one character, that of Countess Teresa di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), during her acting career, she would still have attained apotheosis. Of course, Rigg offered infinitely more during her illustrious acting career. And I am not just talking about cinema. For, she also excelled on stage as well as television and that too at a time when the medium was still in its nascent stage. As a matter of fact, it was her portrayal of Emma Peel, one of the earliest feminist icons along with the likes of Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale, in the 1960s TV series ‘The Avengers’ that catapulted her to fame.
The trailblazing character of Peel also made Rigg a sex symbol overnight which she wasn’t particularly comfortable with. At a time when no female actor dared talk about pay parity, Rigg demanded a pay rise after she learnt that the cameraman on ‘The Avengers’ was paid a lot more than her. Although, the producers did give in to her demands, it didn’t seem to go well with the press. In her own words, “I was painted as this mercenary creature by the press when all I wanted was equality. It’s so depressing that we are still talking about the gender pay gap.”
Rigg’s father worked as a railway engineer for the Maharaja of Bikaner and as a result she got to spend some time in India as a child. In fact, when she finally returned to England after WWII, she spoke Hindi as a second language. Born on 20 July 1938 in Yorkshire, England, Rigg made her stage debut in 1957 with The Caucasian Chalk Circle. She subsequently joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the year 1959. Although, she made her Broadway debut with the 1971 production of Abelard & Heloise, her major exploits on the stage would only begin a decade later. For playing the titular part in Medea, she won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She earned a total of four Tony nominations in her theatre career. The last nomination came in the year 2018 for the Broadway revival of the musical My Fair Lady.
In the year 1990, Rigg won BAFTA for Best Television Actress for portraying Helena Vesey in BBC’s four-part television drama Mother Love. Seven years later, she won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress for British-German miniseries Rebecca. She is best remembered by the present generation of viewers as Lady Olenna Tyrell from the hugely popular HBO series Game of Thrones. The part got her four Emmy nominations. The show writers invariably saved her the best lines which she delivered with great sarcasm and wit.
Rigg’s body of work includes films A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), Julius Caesar (1970), The Hospital (1971), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Snow White (1987), The Painted Veil (2007), and Breathe (2017). The Hospital earned her the only Golden Globe nomination of her career. Her last film will be Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho.
Finally, coming back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diana Rigg’s Countess Tracy is undoubtedly the best Bond girl ever. Rigg nearly overshadows Bond with a remarkable screen presence. Tracy is only woman to have brought 007 on his knees for making a marriage proposal on accepting which she attained the distinguishable honor of becoming Mrs. James Bond. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service may not be the quintessential James Bond film but it’s certainly the most unique and original Bond film of all time. Rarely has a 007 film come close to matching the poignant show of emotions that we are privileged to witness here. Towards the film’s end after Tracy marries George Lazenby’s James Bond, she is shot dead by Bond’s nemesis Blofeld’s henchwoman. It’s the most heartbreaking moments in the entire James Bond series (perhaps along with Vesper Lynd’s death in Casino Royale) as a shattered James Bond gently holds Tracy in his arms for one last time and whispers, “She’s having a rest. There’s no hurry, you see, we have all the time in the world.” As I write the last few words of this heartfelt tribute to one of cinema’s most alluring divas, I just can’t take my mind off that magical scene which immortalized both Rigg and Lazenby five decades ago.
Watch the scene here