Hollywood is aflutter as stars get ready for the Academy Awards tomorrow, and even though Maggie Smith isn’t a nominee this year, she is a past winner. Twice. Not to mention her BAFTA, Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Tony, and numerous other award nominations and wins. So let’s celebrate this superstar of screen and stage by taking a look at some of her many, many works.
Dame Maggie began acting on stage and screen, and racking up award nominations and trophies, in the ‘50s. Her first nomination was for the BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer — the first of her seventeen(!) BAFTA nominations to date — for her portrayal of Bridget Howard in the 1958 film Nowhere to Go.
On stage, one of her most notable early roles was as the tragic Shakespearean heroine Desdemona, whom she played opposite Laurence Olivier as the Moor in Othello. In 1965, both reprised their roles in the film version of Othello, and Smith’s performance netted her the first of her six Academy Award and eleven Golden Globe Award nominations to date.
That same year, Smith was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, for her performance as Nora in Young Cassidy, the biographical drama based on the life of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey.
In 1969, she starred in the title role of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Her portrayal of the independent and irrepressible Scottish schoolteacher was simply stunning, and Smith received four Best Actress nominations for it, including for a Golden Globe Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award. She won the Academy Award and BAFTA Award.
(When I first saw this film, I was too young to grasp and appreciate it. Upon watching it again years later, I was in awe of Smith’s powerhouse performance as Brodie, whose sway over students and conflicts with fellow staff members ultimately lead to her downfall.)
Smith’s next Academy Award and Golden Globe Best Actress nominations were for her acting flair as the flamboyant Aunt Augusta Bertram in the George Cukor comedic film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, Travels With My Aunt. It’s delightfully quirky and funny, and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.
One of my favorite movies with Maggie Smith is Murder By Death, the hilarious 1976 whodunit spoof featuring send-ups of well-known fictional sleuths, such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Within the ensemble cast are David Niven and Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston, the Anglicized mock version of Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. While she wasn’t nominated for an award, Smith’s refined and posh Dora is so deadpan funny that I’m laughing just thinking about it.
The year 1978 proved to be a banner one for Smith, as she was nominated for seven awards for her roles in Death on the Nile and California Suite. In the latter she played Diana Barrie, a British actress and first-time Oscar nominee who’s in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards. Smith’s portrayal as the emotionally-fraught Barrie earned her four award wins: the Academy Award and Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the Evening Standard British Film Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Smith appeared in numerous critically-acclaimed and audience-favorite films and television programs (and received more award nominations and wins), including, amongst others, the miniseries David Copperfield, fantasy films Clash of the Titans and Hook, comedies Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and The First Wives Club, and period dramas The Secret Garden, Tea With Mussolini, and A Room With A View (another of my fave films featuring Maggie Smith). For her portrayal of the repressed and manipulative chaperone Charlotte Bartlett, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress and Golden Globe Award and Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress.
A new generation of Dame Maggie fans came into being at the turn of this century, when she appeared in seven of the eight Harry Potter films as Minerva McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, Professor of Transfiguration, and Head of Gryffindor House. (I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine anyone else in this role.)
Three days after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had its worldwide premiere in November 2001, the Julian Fellowes-penned Gosford Park premiered at the London Film Festival. In this dramedy/mystery ensemble piece about a shooting weekend (and murder!) at an English country house, Smith played Constance, Countess of Trentham (sound familiar?), a grand dame who’d fallen on hard times (but still has a lady’s maid) and whose allowance is being threatened. For her performance, she earned eighteen (count ’em, eighteen!) award nominations, of which she won eight: three for Best Supporting Actress and five in the Best Cast category. Little did she (or we) know then that her Countess would one day be transformed into one of Smith’s most beloved signature roles.
Fast-forward to September 2010 (in the UK) and January 2011 (in the US), when the first season of Fellowes’ Gosford Park-inspired Downton Abbey premiered on ITV and PBS, respectively. The show has been a massive hit, with audience figures growing with each successive season, thanks in no small part to Smith’s portrayal of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham — she of the smug satisfaction, double-takes, and one-liners that leave viewers squealing with delight and anticipating her next zinger. Of the thirteen award nominations she’s received to date for this role, Smith has won six, including two Emmys and a Golden Globe, Satellite, Screen Actors Guild, and TV Times Award. Season 4 is in production, so it’s quite possible (or should I say likely?) that more are forthcoming. (By the way, did you know that Smith has not seen a single episode of Downton Abbey? It’s true.)
More nominations did come in 2012 for Smith’s work in two comedy-drama films, including six for her portrayal of the bitter former housekeeper Muriel Donnelly in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (winning two), and a Golden Globe Best Actress nod for playing the opera diva Jean Horton in Quartet. (I saw the former and really enjoyed it, and expect I’ll feel similarly when I see the latter this afternoon.)
I look forward to seeing more of Maggie Smith — on television and/or film, in drama and/or comedy — and to updating this post as she garners more accolades, as I am sure she will.
Enjoy the Academy Awards (if you plan to watch it), check out some new-to-you Maggie Smith programs and films (if there are any), and have a fab weekend!