Sep 28 2011: A Signed Photograph of Uma Thurman as Emma Peel in The Avengers (1998)

Rummaging around the Cattle Market turns up some unexpected things: if it’s not an Ethiopian vellum painting of a Madonna & Child of unknown provenance, or a heap of rain-battered home medical reference guides, then it might instead turn out to be a signed photograph of Uma Thurman, in costume as Emma Peel in the 1998 Hollywood remake of The Avengers, her big screen attempt to revive a role originally played on British TV by Diana Rigg.

A few checks suggest the signature is authentic, to the degree that it matches any number of other signed Uma Thurman artefacts, though whether that is her actual signature is an open question: it’s not unknown for A-listers to authorise assistants to sign on their behalf for these kinds of commercially available signed stills and posters so authentication can be notoriously difficult to establish without having witnessed the signature being made.

But that may be of less interest than the whole question of authenticity itself: since a celebrity’s signature is to the late twentieth and early twenty-first century what a saint’s relics were to the Middle Ages, perhaps it doesn’t matter that the marker pen wasn’t necessarily held by Thurman herself, any more than it mattered to a pilgrim that the bones inside a reliquary may never have been part of any human body, let alone that of the saint him or herself.

Like the postcard in an earlier entry here, said to be invested with some unspoken power after being touched against the relic of St. Margaret, “treasured by the Ursulines in St. Margaret’s Convent, Whitehouse Loan, Edinburgh” in 1957, so this signed photograph gains a certain potency from the belief that it has been touched against the aura of its Hollywood star, and so perhaps invested with a little of the glamour (a word originally derived from the folkloric ability of fairies to weave illusions) of global celebrity.

As for the film this photo is lifted from, even as something of an admirer of the very English quirks and style of the 1960s TV series, to be honest I’d forgotten all about it. As most people have, I suspect, despite its occasionally nice touches, Ralph Fiennes making a fairly creditable effort to fill Patrick McNee’s old shoes and Thurman herself nailing the reserve and precision – if not always the sensuality and humour – of Rigg’s original characterisation.

Perhaps the real problem with The Avengers was its compromise between the original concept’s very English quirks and sense of style over substance, and the more formulaic and earnest plotting of the Hollywood summer blockbuster.

It’s hard not to wonder whether a lower budget, a bit more inventiveness and a heightening of the 1998 film’s best touches (in anticipation of Hot Fuzz by way of Harry Potter, with a large dollop of retro Mod style) might have made it – perhaps ironically – a more commercial proposition than the efforts to squeeze its essentially insubstantial appeal into a more obviously commercial mould allowed. Maybe I should watch it again.


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