Movie producers have always been intimidated by actress Dame Diana Rigg whose self sufficiency and intelligence seemed to threaten them. Her portrayal of Mrs. Peel on the “Avengers” television series of the 60’s defined her image as the strong independent woman who could even rescue her partner, co-star Patrick Macnee as John Steed. She made her feature film debut opposite Oliver Reed in 1969’s “The Assassination Bureau,” in which she appeared as a character very much like Mrs. Peel, transported back to the 19th century. Other roles followed in the 70’s and the 80’s. She played Mrs. James Bond opposite George Lazenby, a hippy opposite Dr. George C. Scott in “Hospital”, “Vincent Price’s homicidal accomplice in “Theatre of Blood” and a bitch in Agatha Christie’s “Evil Under The Sun” and “Witness for the Prosecution.” Although some of these films were more enjoyable than others, few provided Dame Diana with much of an acting challenge.
Her range was enormous as she proved in her stage appearances in London and on Broadway, but movie audiences rarely got to see what the Shakespearean trained actress could do with a genuinely meaty role. Dame Diana has always been at her best in tongue and cheek parts in which her inability to project real vulnerability is not so obvious. She seemed to enjoy tackling villainous portrayals in “Bleak House”, “The Worst Witch”, “Hazard of Hearts” and “Snow White,” and as she moves into her eighth decade we may see her in ever increasing numbers of them. Her most engaging work on video and DVD remain the 50 “Avengers” episodes carefully annotated in a 1990 paperback book by Dave Rogers from St. Martin’s Press. Once upon a time you could also see her weekly as the elegant host on the PBS “Mystery” series. Dame Diana has had to cope with back problems since 1978. She never did learn karate, but as any true fan of the classic “Joker” episode knows, she gave added texture to a legendary female character who was well able to protect herself.
Now where can you see her on video in a part that isn’t Mrs. Peel: Well, there’s “Unexplained Laughter” from 1989, “Mother Love” from 1990, one of her favorites, Mrs. ‘Arris goes to Paris opposite Angela Lansbury in 1992, “Ghengis Khan” and “Running Delilah” both from 1993, “Good Man In Africa” with Sean Connery in 1994, “Haunting of Helen Walker”, a “Turn of the Screw” update from 1995, “Samson and Deliliah” and “Moll Flanders”from 1996, her Emmy winning portrayal of Mrs. Danvers in “Rebecca” from 1997, an oddball Michael Winner movie, “Parting Shots” from 1998, “Speedy Death” from 1999, “Victoria and Albert” and “The American” from 2001 and “The Painted Veil” from 2006. But I think every true Diana Rigg fan believes she should have a really meaty role in the movies which, according to her, has yet to happen.
© 2008 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 7/16/08