Whenever I watch old movies, I find myself googling the actors – dead or alive? background? school? Maggie Smith, a notoriously private person and “voracious reader” – both are among the reasons I like her – was hard to decipher, so when Michael Coveney wrote her biography, I anticipated discovering more about one of my favorite actresses.
Like many biographers, Michael Coveney meticulously references his research, which often creates a stodgy narrative – almost like reading one of those required history texts in school. Nevertheless, in Maggie Smith: A Biography, he delivers a comprehensive view of the actress with notes of interest that will make you smile.
Coveney identifies Smith as a feisty child – much like the adult she became – who was determined to act. Despite the discouragement of her mother and her teacher, Miss Bartholomew at Oxford High School, Maggie Smith found her voice in acting at the Oxford Playhouse School of Theater.
The book includes wonderful pictures from childhood into adulthood, including many of her famous roles and a glimpse into her private life.
Coveney identifies Pamela Brown’s Blue Door series of children’t books as favorites of the young Margaret Smith. The books, especially “The Swish of the Curtain,” reflected Smith’s own yearning to act. I’ve decided to take a break from the biography to read the book – still in print and available on Kindle. To supplement my own research, I rented the three DVD series “Maggie Smith at the BBC.” Disc One shows a young beautiful Smith playing Portia in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” The second has Smith as the feisty and funny redhead, Epifania in George Bernard Shaw’s “The Millionairess.” In both the sarcastic asides and comic gestures are as evident as they are today when I watch her as Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey.
I’m looking forward to a slow informative read when I return to the biography. Maybe I’ll write more about her later…