The illustrious career of “a great stage actress in both comedy and tragedy, and an international film star.”
Winner of two Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, and several Emmys, the internationally acclaimed Maggie Smith (b. 1934) is currently best known as Lady Violet on Downton Abbey. As British theater critic and biographer Coveney (Ken Campbell: The Great Caper, 2012, etc.) portrays her in this informative, well-crafted biography, Smith brings to her role as Dowager Countess the acerbic wit, sly irreverence, and masterly technique that have served her throughout her long career. Steeped in theater history, and with full cooperation from Smith; her husband, actor Beverley Cross; family and colleagues, including her close friend Judi Dench, Coveney seamlessly melds Smith’s personal and professional lives into an engrossing narrative. Smith’s stardom was ensured, the author believes, in 1960, when she received 12 curtain calls for her performance in J.M. Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows. In 1969, her role in The Prime of Miss Brodie earned her an Oscar. Besides “her incurably obsessive drive to be working,” Coveney writes, “she had a sure instinct about which work to do.” That work took her to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, London’s West End, Broadway, and Hollywood; from the start, she proved herself an astonishing comedienne. As Michael Caine, her co-star in Neil Simon’s California Suite, remarked, acting with Smith “was like attending a one-woman masterclass on comic technique.” On stage and screen, director Peter Wood said, Smith had a “telepathic ray” that connected with her audience. To co-stars, though, she could seem formidable: Michael Palin commented on “an intensity of animosity sometimes, which comes out in her acting and can be quite chilling.” Journalist Bernard Levin thought she constructed a “brittle facade” to hide her vulnerability. “I’m never shy on the stage,” she said. “Always shy off it.” “I don’t like myself very much,” she once admitted. “I’d much rather be someone else.”
An authoritative and perceptive portrait.