Following the departure of Sean Connery in the lead role, the producers of the James Bond films looked to replace him with an actor who was equally as good-looking and charismatic for the next film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Their choice was the face of Big Fry Chocolate, the male model George Lazenby. It would be a choice that at the time was wildly unpopular and caused a huge critical and commercial backlash against the franchise resulting in a humiliating climb-down and reinstatement of Connery.
International spy James Bond (Lazenby) saves a mysterious woman (Diana Rigg) from committing suicide. The next day Bond is kidnapped by her father’s henchman, and in a moment of regret he offers Bond a dowry to marry his daughter. Initially Bond refuses, but then offers to marry her if her reveals the whereabouts of SPECTRE Number 1, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas).
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service attempted to distance the franchise from the Connery era somewhat, while trying to pander to their in-built audience. This confusing position lead to a lead actor seemingly trying to establish himself as a new version of the character (hence the now infamous fourth wall-breaking line this never happened to the other fellow) while giving the audience his best impression of Connery.
The narrative structure follows similar pointers as the previous instalments and there are rather exciting action scenes, including a very memorable ski chase scene and a helicopter assault. There are even moments of comic ingenuity, like Bond disguising himself as a scientific boffin to help break the tension and drama. These moments help set On Her Majesty’s Secret Service apart from almost all other James Bond films and this doesn’t even mention the ending.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is actually one of the more interesting attempts to deepen the character of MI6’s finest. Playing opposite one of the strongest ˜Bond girl’ characters in Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), Bond finds himself falling in love and even getting married. These final scenes, including Moneypenny’s (Lois Maxwell) reaction and the romantic car ride away from his life as a super-spy are tinged with gut-wrenching sadness mere moments later and it’s tough to imagine any Bond film since having the bravery to end on such a melancholy note. Even the more recent Casino Royale refused to go the whole way and end on such tragedy.
Yet despite the positives of action, comedy, unique approach and sublime ending sequence, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels less like a proper James Bond film and more of an imitation. Still it’s entertaining enough, even with Lazenby who is easily the weakest actor to play the character and has the kudos of being an almost stand-alone story in a sea of similar films within the franchise.