This perfect gift book for fans of Downton Abbey will take them behind the scenes of the Grand Dame who brings the Dowager Countess to life.
No one does glamour, severity, girlish charm or tight-lipped witticism better than Dame Maggie Smith. Michael Coveney's biography shines a light on the life and career of a truly remarkable performer, one whose stage and screen career spans six decades.
From her days as a West End star of comedy and revue, Dame Maggie's path would cross with those of the greatest actors, playwrights and directors of the era. Whether stealing scenes from Richard Burton, answering back to Laurence Olivier, or playing opposite Judi Dench in Breath of Life, her career can be seen as a 'Who's Who' of British theatre. Her film and television career has been just as starry. From the title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and the meddling chaperone in A Room With a View to the Harry Potter films in which she played Minerva McGonagall (as she put it 'Miss Jean Brodie in a wizard's hat') and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films in which she played the wise Muriel Donnelly, Smith has thrilled, engaged and made audiences laugh. As Violet Crawley, the formidable Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey she conquered millions more. Paradoxically she remains an enigmatic figure, rarely appearing in public.
Michael Coveney's absorbing biography, written with the actress's blessing and drawing on personal archives, as well as interviews with immediate family and close friends, is a portrait of one of the greatest actors of our time.
This hagiography of the Downton Abbey and Harry Potter star is an updated and expanded edition of an earlier effort by theater critic Coveney: Maggie Smith: A Bright Particular Star, published in 1994. More turns out to be less for this overwritten biography, which says much but reveals very little about the actor, who rarely gives interviews. Coveney recounts detailed plot summaries of many of Smith's plays and films, consistently emphasizing how extraordinary Smith is in each production. When the author himself isn't gushing, he's quoting other admirers, including playwrights Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, and Anthony Shaffer; costars Michael Palin and John Moffatt; and director Jack Clayton. There are some nice examples of Smith's withering wit, but this volume never delivers much insight into the "tragic intensity" and "technical skill" that makes her stage and screen roles so unforgettable. While the book covers Smith's upbringing in Oxford, schooling, and initial career, as well as her seven-year marriage to actor Robert Stephens, these episodes are bogged down with minutiae that bore rather than illuminate. Fans of Smith may not be able to resist a biography of her, but they will likely be disappointed by this one.