The Lady at 80: Encore, Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith

On December 28, 2014, Maggie Smith turned 80 years old. With her stately demeanor, piercing eyes, and elegant mannerisms, she exudes an air of royalty. Indeed, she would be well-suited to play the role of a dignified queen in her next picture.


Having been in acting for more than 60 years, Dame Smith has played a wide variety of roles throughout her career. Her background is as broad as her roles: after living in Ilford until she was nearly five, she moved to Oxford when her father began working at the Oxford School of Pathology.

After attending the Oxford high school for girls, Ms. Smith went to the Oxford Playhouse School of Theatre. The rest, as they say, is history. This in spite of the lack of encouragement from her mother who, it is rumored, opined that Ms. Smith would never be a success in theater because of her face.

Acting runs in Ms. Smith’s family: it is rumored that her father had unfulfilled aspirations for the stage, and her two sons—Chris Larkin and Toby Stevens—are both actors, as was their father, Robert Stephens.


Ms. Smith’s career is long and storied. She has done everything from performing Shakespeare to appearing in the Harry Potter films. In between she won an Academy Award for her role in the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and a second one in 1978 for her work in California Suite. She has appeared on television shows as well as film and on stage. She has won two Emmy Awards for her role on the show Downton Abbey, where she plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Her recent work includes the film The Lady in the Van, a touching piece about a transient woman who parks her van in a man’s driveway, intending to stay only for three weeks only to end up befriending the man and remaining on his property for 15 years.

Although there surely are other actresses who could have played the role, Ms. Smith fits it perfectly and brings to it her own air of elegance. The movie is based on a true story and is the latest in a long line of acting achievements for Ms. Smith.

Personal life

 Ms. Smith has been married twice, first to Robert Stephens—the father of her two sons—and then to Beverly Cross. Mr. Cross died of cancer just over a decade ago. In 2008 Ms. Smith fought breast cancer during her filming of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

 Ms. Smith has been close friends with Judi Dench since the two shared a dressing room almost 60 years ago. She has been nominated for 147 different awards, winning 53 of them.

Since her husband died, Ms. Smith has focused on her career with a renewed vigor, finding that keeping busy provides her with a way to handle the single life. She notes, “It’s awful, but what do you do? You are alone much more. A day that is absolutely crowded keeps your mind away from why you are alone, but when it stops, that is the deafening silence.”



Fans of Ms. Smith abound across the globe, in every country, culture, age group, and color. Her work has spanned more than 60 years and has been set in areas as diverse as her fans. She exhibited an aptitude for acting at an early age and has demonstrated a passion for her craft that is unparalleled today.

Although she has won more awards than most actors or actresses would ever think possible, Ms. Smith shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, her passion for acting has increased, much to the delight of her legions of fans everywhere, who keep calling for encores. (What other 80 year old has a fan-created YouTube video dedicated to her apt deliverance of one liners? The distinction goes to Maggie Smith.)

Finally, she has passed her passion for acting and her ability to immerse herself in a character on to her sons. If they have even a fraction of the success she has enjoyed, the world will be a better place for it.



Hadley, Tessa. Maggie Smith at 80: ‘a walking, talking, flame’. Available at Last visited November 5, 2015. (website). Maggie Smith Biography. Available at Last visited November 5, 2015.

Davison, Rebecca. VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Downton’s Maggie Smith, 80, transforms into The Lady In The Van in newly released trailer for movie. Available at Last visited November 5, 2015.

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