Maggie Smith: the Harry Potter teacher who put Laurence Olivier in his place and never saw Downton Abbey

He has seven decades of professional career in his 87 years of life, two Oscars that he won triumphantly in the 70s and four other nominations throughout his career, which include films directed by classic directors such as Joseph Mankiewicz, Richard Attenborough or George Cukor. . He also shared the set with Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Orson Welles, Elsa Martinelli and Elizabeth Taylor. And although most of the public locates her moving between the halls of Hogwarts school and those of Downton Abbey, the trajectory of Maggie Smith has much more to offer than the popular profiles of Professor McGonagall and the Dowager Countess of Crawley. His is almost a movie life, or at least a life lived on a movie set.

Margaret Natalie Smith Cross was born in Ilford in 1934, the daughter of a secretary and a professor at Oxford University, where she moved when she was four years old. She began to rise to fame very early, at the Oxford Playhouse School Of Theatre, despite the fact that her mother said that she would never become an actress with “a face like that”, as her biographer Michael Coveney rescued. Her professional debut occurred seven decades ago with King’s Nightby William Shakespeare: it will be from the hand of the Elizabethan author with whom he will achieve lasting fame, first at the Royal National Theater as the Desdemona of Othello that brought her closer to the cinema in 1965, along with Laurence Olivier, directed by Stuart Burge; it was his first Oscar nomination. in the documentary tea with the ladiesby Roger Michell, which brought Maggie together with other British luminaries of the stage and screen (Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, and Joan Plowright), Smith recalled the “warm” working relationship he built with Olivier. The actor claimed that the young Smith’s pronunciation was not up to Shakespeare’s standards; She returned her contempt when she found him with his Moorish general makeup in the dressing room, and snapped a simple greeting: “How’s everything, brown cow?”

Joyce Redman, Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier in Othello (1965)FPG – Moviepix

In 1966 Maggie (nominated for the same film along with her colleague Joyce Redman, who had played Emilia), stayed in her seat applauding Shelley Winters who snatched her first chance to win an Oscar (as an intimate consolation, she did not win the Oscar Oliver). However, Shakespeare would not abandon Maggie Smith since between 1976 and 1980 she was part of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. At the beginning of that decade, she was also summoned for the launch of Hedda Gabler of the great Ingmar Bergman.

His first Academy Award would come only ten years later, for The spring of a spinster (premiered in Argentina at the Iguazú cinema on Lavalle Street), where his composition of the Scottish teacher Jean Brodie in Edinburgh in the 1930s surpassed Genevieve Bujold, Jane Fonda, Jean Simmons and Liza Minelli. She will win an Oscar again, this time as a supporting actress, in 1979, for the alcoholic California Suite and will have Academy Award nominations in 1973 (travel with my aunt); 1987 (A love in Florence, available on and 2002 by Gosford Park, midnight crimeby Robert Altman, which brought her so close to Julian Fellowes –the great creator of downton abbey and screenwriter of that film– as well as the universe of British high society in the 1930s where she personified Constance, the Countess of Trentham, who travels for the weekend with her maid to Gosford Park, where a mysterious murder occurs. (the film is available on MUBI).

Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens in The Spring of an Old Maid, a film for which she won her first Oscar
Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens in The Spring of an Old Maid, a film for which she won her first OscarArchive Photos – Moviepix

In the long list of titles of his abundant filmography are also noted International Hotelalong with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; The machine to make millions, with Peter Ustinov and Karl Malden; death on the nileagain with Ustinov and Jane Birkin, Bette Davis and David Niven (available on Apple TV+); Richard III, alongside Ian McKellen and Annette Bening; The Divorcee’s Clubs, with Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton and Tea with Mussolini, with Cher, Judi Dench and Joan Plowright (these last two, available on Apple TV + and Google Play). All the work of a quality cinema that in 1991 with its first approach to the fantastic universe at the hands of Steven Spielberg in Hook what will begin to outline another actress, close to a fantasy universe but also to media fame. “Those movies made me very famous, although I’m not very happy about it. I constantly have children asking me to turn them into cats, ”Smith told the Daily Mail when her fame for the saga of Harry Potter it was already a fact.

Maggie Smith in Travels with My Aunt (1972), adapted from Graham Greene's novel, for which she received another Academy Award nomination
Maggie Smith in Travels with My Aunt (1972), adapted from Graham Greene’s novel, for which she received another Academy Award nominationArchive Photos – Moviepix

In 2001, parallel to Gosford Park The filming of the first adaptation of the wizard boy books will also take place and nothing will ever be the same again. It was the author herself, JK Rowling, who asked Maggie Smith to be part of the cast of harry potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, kick to the translation of JK Rowling’s literary universe in eight films (all available on HBO Max), even before the identity of its director, Christopher Columbus, was known. Minerva McGonagall went on to have Smith’s indelible hieratic smile, bulging eyes and irresistible charm.

Maggie Smith played Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series
Maggie Smith played Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series

But the interpreter continued to film beyond the Hogwarts transformations teacher: several of her great works will happen after the phenomenon Harry Potter: Rigoletto in trouble, Dustin Hoffman’s first film as a director based on the play by Ronald Harwood. In the film, the fictional Beecham House emulates the very real Italian Verdi House as a refuge for veteran artists, to which the great singer Jean Horton arrives, who achieved fame at the cost of breaking up the quartet and the friendship that united her with other singers. , not so successful, but now guests of the same residence. Maggie composes with remarkable charm that great diva of yesteryear who, insecure and moody, accepts that her impoverished destiny binds her to those from whom she walked away from her decades ago.

Maggie Smith is a retired operatic singer in Rigoletto in Distress
Maggie Smith is a retired operatic singer in Rigoletto in DistressDiamond

She was also the Muriel Donnelly who needed a cheap hip surgery and that is why she traveled to India, where she would not find the comfortable hotel she expected and much less a society according to her disguised racism in another success such as The exotic Marigold Hotel, whose success ensured a sequel and perfect phrases for his arid profile such as: “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it” (both films are available on Star+).

With the return of the Crawley family to movie theaters in Downton Abbey: A New Era, the dalliances of the English aristocracy return, and also the character who, thanks to the talent of Maggie Smith, landed a fundamental role in the series (all its seasons are available on Amazon Prime Video; the first film, on Netflix) and conquered the viewers’ hearts: Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, who also secures a place of influence in the family’s decision-making. Smith always clarified with total aplomb that she had never seen the series in her life.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham, one of the perennial attractions of Downton Abbey, who returned to theaters with a second film
The Dowager Countess of Grantham, one of the perennial attractions of Downton Abbey, who returned to theaters with a second filmFilm & Arts

Apparently cold and traditional, Violet faces a world of change with her Victorian morals, which in this film sequel includes the arrival of cinema in the noble abode of Downton Abbey. A modern world that she opposes her character from the first passages of the series by Julian Fellowes, where she was able to say with total English phlegm: “Don’t be a defeatist, dear: she is very middle class.”