Emma Peel: A forgotten icon

Friday, February 12

By Julia Martinez

The name of this legend may not ring a bell since, unless you were born on 1965, it probably has never popped on your tv screen or Netflix account. However, she is one of the strongest female characters film industry has ever created.

Her first appearence was during season 4, where she worked alongside with John Steed (Patrick Macnee), where, to quote the show, they, as ''extraordinary agents, avenged extraordinary crimes against the people and the state''.

Emma Peel, interpreted by Diana Rigg, was mainly created to fabricate a character that would be appealing to men ("Man Appeal" or "M. Appeal", hopefully you can catch the word play here).

She was set out to be just another one of the many "side chicks" of the show, right from the start. In spite of this, Peel was able to become a strong heroine that inspired many and  quickly became one of the pioneers of the women’s leading characters.

A master of martial arts, a professional with the swords and knives, a spy and a specialist in chemistry and science are a few of the skills and assets that made her the most memorable tv show’s co protagonist. Not to mention the powerful image she conveyed within her very futuristic wardrobe

Her style was really fresh and contemporary yet fitting for this unofficial undercover operative. Mrs Peel was the ''ideal broker of the UK into the swinging world of the 60s,”

Toby Miller, a then New York University film professor, told the New York Times in 1998.

“She exuded the same style, confidence and beauty that were central to the abiding appeal of James Bond.”

I think the best part about this character, is how she doesn’t come down as just a companion, she becomes the co-worker, she fights the bad guys, provides grip and mastery and, most importantly, she uses her resources and knowledge to do something productive during the series.

This was a huge deal since women were used to see on their screens the stereotypical pretty bimbo female lead, and while Mrs Peel remains flawless throught the whole series, she is not afraid to physically batter the hapless men who attacked her rather than relying on the strong and also, very much capable man, that was standing next to her. Perhaps this is what we all expect from any TV leading role in the present day, but back in 1965 this was a complete, but surprisingly well received, utter shock.

I believe it's important to highlight Diana Rigg’s perfomance and bring back attention to characters like Emma Peel who were the few female leaders of the 1960/1970’s that weren't afraid to participate in this specific dynamic. They were not diminished by the male protagonist and seen as just a mere sexual object, they fought back with grace and beauty, and most importantly, forged a path of new roles for women.


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