Woman Crush Wednesday: Maggie Smith

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Some may know her as the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey, but Dame Maggie Smith has a long and varied career on stage and screen.

Let’s look at a few of the historical costume movie and TV roles that made her iconic long before she got us wondering what a weekend was.

 

Othello (1965) – Desdemona

Maggie Smith, Othello, 1965

This was Maggie’s breakout film role against Laurence Olivier as Othello. The ingenue Smith obviously made as much of an impact in the movies as she was already making on stage.

 

Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) – Music Hall Star

Maggie Smith, Oh What a Lovely War, 1969

Maggie Smith had a small role in this parodic take on the first World War, but look at how absolutely lovely she is in her song-and-dance getup. She’s a stunner.

 

The Millionairess (1972) – Epifania

Maggie Smith, The Millionairess, 1972

I know almost nothing about this BBC TV ‘play of the month,’ except it’s written by George Bernard Shaw and a DVD is available on Amazon. Not even sure if it’s supposed to be historically set; maybe 1940s? Though the blue eye shadow seems rather 1970s. Really, I just had to include this picture because Maggie Smith looks so damn good.

 

Death on the Nile (1978) – Miss Bowers

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Kendra has reviewed this murder-mystery already, but let’s just admire this cross-dressy turn Maggie Smith delivers. We all wish we could look this smart. (We’re gonna skip the other Poiret mystery, 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, where they made Smith up to look like Lucille Ball.)

 

Clash of the Titans (1981) – Thetis

Maggie Smith, Clash of the Titans. 1981

Always a goddess, in this kinda schlocky epic, Maggie Smith plays the queen of the sea. She gets into a bitch-fight with Andromeda and wants her sacrificed to the Kraken. As do we all.

 

A Room With a View (1985) – Charlotte Bartlett

Maggie Smith, A Room With a View, 1985

As Helena Bonham Carter‘s chaperon, here begins Smith’s transformation into the perfectly snarky, never satisfied, holier-than-thou, British upper-crust dame in period drama. She could always put on a regal air, but A Room With a View solidified this character as Maggie Smith’s sweet spot in historical costume films and TV. It’s a typecasting she doesn’t seem to mind, and she’s put a different spin on it with each outing.

 

Richard III (1995) – Duchess of York

Maggie Smith, Richard III, 1995

A small yet exquisite role in this 1930s Shakespeare adaption — Maggie Smith is the mother to Richard (played by Ian McKellen). Her final scene cursing him out is fantastically biting.

 

Harry Potter series (2001-2011) – Professor Minerva McGonagall

Maggie Smith, Harry Potter series, 2001

It’s not historical, but we all know and love Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, so I couldn’t help but include this role! By turns severe and sentimental, she’s the teacher you’d have the fondest memories of as an adult.

 

Gosford Park (2001) – Constance Trentham

Maggie Smith, Gosford Park, 2001

This movie, and Maggie Smith’s role in it, are a direct precursor to Downton Abbey, despite being set in the ’30s. Written by Julian Fellows, it has the same snappy patter and elaborate, giant cast, plus everyone looks gorgeous.

 

Becoming Jane (2007) – Lady Gresham

Maggie Smith, Becoming Jane, 2007

Really, this is just a fabulous opportunity to see Maggie Smith in lovely 18th-century costume! She’s an upper-crust mother of one of Jane Austen‘s suitors, rockin’ the old-school look.

 

Downton Abbey (2010-2015) – Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham

Let’s face it, this is why we all keep tuning in. When you’re sick to death of Lady Mary’s BS or all the stupid crap heaped on Lady Edith or the never-ending trauma of the Bates’ life, we’re bound to get some supremely clever one-liners from the Dowager Countess. Thank you, Maggie Smith, for bringing the old bat to life!

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

These are just a few — what’s your favorite Maggie Smith historical costume movie or TV role?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

21 Responses

  1. MoHub

    So where is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? That’s where she first came across my horizon.

    Reply
    • GinaP

      I love TPOMJB too, “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she will be mine for life.” But the costumes and hair were definitely NOT of the 30’s, not even close. It is very disappointing for a UK production.

      Reply
  2. Shirley

    Downton Abbey is probably my favorite for her. As you said in the post, I am pretty much so over all of the other characters, but Dame Maggie always brings her A-game. Her delivery is magnificent.

    I actually rewatched Othello for the first time in years a few months ago. I hadn’t realized she was in it until she came on the screen, but she was great in that too.

    Reply
  3. mmcquown

    I saw her first in Brodie, and that’s always my first thought of her. “Girls, girls, girls,” still echoes in my head. But everything she touched turned to gold.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I haven’t seen Miss Brodie in ages, & when I looked up pix, the costumes looked very 1960s, so I couldn’t remember if it was a contemporary flick or not. Still, Maggie Smith has oodles of fantastic films to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down! Heck, even her small recent modern roles like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are brilliant!

      Reply
  4. Susan Pola

    Favourite role for Dame Maggie is a tie between Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham and Gryffindor alumna and now Professor, Minerva McGonigall. Love your selection, but what about Jean Brodie? Won an Oscar.

    Reply
  5. SarahV

    How about Murder by Death, in which she plays a Nora Charles knockoff with fabulous cocktail dresses and impeccable comic timing.

    Reply
  6. Therese

    The Prime om Miss Jean Brodie is set in the early 30’s and one of my all time favorites — All the teachers in the girls school wear greys and black, but Jean is considered ‘shocking’ in her florals and purples! She’s a teacher first, last and always! See it if you get the chance.

    Reply
  7. Laura

    Not an historical film, but my first introduction to her was as the elderly Wendy in the movie Hook.

    Reply

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