Diana Rigg: The Bond girl who broke the mould

Ben Bussey
Diana Rigg: The Bond girl who broke the mould

Dame Diana Rigg turns 75 today. A national treasure for her long and varied acting career, for Bond fans she is best remembered as Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo, AKA Tracy Draco, AKA Mrs James Bond in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' (1969). While most notable for being the only time George Lazenby portrayed 007, 'OHMSS' stands apart on many levels, and Diana Rigg's performance plays a large part in this. Until 'Casino Royale' reset the clock, she was the first woman to truly win 007's heart - and paid the ultimate price for it.

Casting Rigg as a Bond girl must have seemed an absolute no-brainer in 1969. She'd just ended a now-legendary three-year run as Emma Peel on TV's 'The Avengers' (having replaced another one-time Bond girl, Honor Blackman), wherein her natural charisma, unquestionable beauty and ultra-modern, leather-oriented wardrobe made her a major sex symbol and household name. Given 'OHMSS' ran a significant risk by introducing the unknown, utterly inexperienced ex-model George Lazenby as Bond, having an established screen star alongside him must have seemed advantageous.

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Rigg, however, insists she was cast not for her stardom or sex appeal, but her classical acting experience, which included a stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company. As Rigg told Mark Lawson in 2011, "George Lazenby was ill-equipped… I was there to steer him through and give it some gravitas." This certainly does come into play, as Tracy is by no means a conventional Bond girl. Tortured with depression, she attempts suicide in the first scene, until stopped by Bond. Later she proves every bit as erudite as 007, and equally adept at sardonic witticisms; she even seems to have the upper hand with Telly Savalas' Blofield whilst he holds her prisoner.

For the sheer number of Bond girls declared to be an equal to 007, Tracy is one of the few to truly live up to that claim. The audience can really believe Bond would fall in love with her; as such, her ultimate death by a bullet meant for him remains a powerful, genuinely shocking and poignant moment, giving us a glimpse of vulnerability from Bond we had not seen before, or since - at least until the climax of 'Skyfall.'

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Deeper appreciation of 'OHMSS' would be some time coming, however. Bad publicity hounded the film on release, Lazenby widely slated for his inexperience and allegedly diva-ish behaviour; Rigg told Lawson that he "was really difficult… (and) the architect of his own demise as a film star." Despite falling in love on camera, by all accounts the actors did not get along well, although both have long since downplayed stories that a vengeful Rigg deliberately ate garlic before a love scene.

However, the reputation of 'OHMSS' has only grown with time, many declaring it the best Bond film overall. Though the next few films went on as if she'd never existed, Tracy is directly referenced in 'The Spy Who Loved Me,' 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'Licence to Kill,' becoming the personification of Bond's underlying melancholy, and his refusal to commit to another woman. Put simply - for the 007 movies, at least - before there was Vesper, there was Tracy. She has cast a long shadow over the series, leaving every subsequent Bond girl with a lot to live up to.

In closing: a very happy birthday to Dame Diana Rigg, and our heartfelt thanks for this wonderful performance, and the many others she has given since.

Ben Bussey is an editor of horror website Brutal As Hell, holds an MA in Cult Film & TV from Brunel University, and is of the opinion that "this never happened to the other fellow" is probably the worst line in the history of the James Bond movies.

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