Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Adored: Maggie Smith

Portraits of the artist as a young woman

There's no other actor or actress who has the ability to make me laugh as hard as Maggie Smith does. By this, I don't mean just a particular film but rather her whole body of work and, in fact, her persona. Maggie Smithh has an inherent ability to put a smile on my face and, more often than not, to make me laugh uproariously. Such is her talent, that to achieve that, she doesn't even have to do much. Usually, a little twitch or the raising of an eye brow does the job.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Rondald Neame, UK, 1969)

It goes without saying, that by elaborating on Maggie Smith's talent to make people laugh I don't intend to belittle her other, her tragic, side. I'm not sure if it's to our fortune or misfortune that in recent years, it's usually her camp side we get to see on screen as at least as far her American films are concerned, this is why producers and directors cast her. No other actress does high camp as well as she does. However, I'm not sure Maggie Smith is always happy about being typecast in varying variations of the bitch, be that the spinster, the chaperone, or the highbrow aristocrat, for she has so much more to offer.

Serious Maggie: As Hedda Gabler in 1970

For theatre goers in London it's a different matter, of course, as they also get to enjoy Maggie in various Shakespeare parts as well as in the much acclaimed Talking heads by Alan Bennett. This, her serious side, cinema-goers rarely get to see nowadays. But I admit, that I myself am guilty of preferring her funny, camp roles to her serious ones. But why should I make excuses? After all, the ability to make people laugh, knowing how to camp it up, is indeed an art-form in itself. And a much too rare one at that. And one at which Maggie Smith is queen!

With co-star Michael Caine in Herbert Ross' California Suite (US 1978) for which she received her second of two Academy Awards.

Caricature of Maggie Smith by Australian artist Col Bodie

Beautiful, just beautiful: Maggie Smith with her first husband Robert Stephens. The two were married between 1967 and 1974.

Maggie Smith and co-star Kelly MacDonald in what probably is my personal favourite Maggie Smith film, Robert Altman's Gosford Park (UK/ US 2002). I saw the film nine times in the cinema, own the DVD, the screenplay and the soundtrack, and can safely say that I know all of Maggie Smith's lines from that film by heart. Besides being a role that brings a new meaning to the word camp and thus is tailor-made for Maggie's talent, the entire film is superbly written and brilliantly cast.

A great actress: Maggie Smith