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Publisher's Summary

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 theater.
Her film and television career are 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' 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.
©2015 Michael Coveney (P)2015 Orion Publishing Group Ltd
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Jean on 01-04-16

Steeped in Theater History

Apparently Smith authorized the biography but gave Coveney very few interviews but did allow him access to family, friends and colleagues. Smith appears to be very reclusive. There is not much information on Smith’s private life; the book is all about her professional life.

Smith was born in 1934 to a working class family. Her mother told her she would never become an actress “with a face like that” She was in plays in high school and in her late teens started to work in the repertory English theater. The author compares and discusses what he calls the three greatest English actresses of the generation: Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. Coveney discuss their different styles and the plays, movies etc., they have played together in. The last part of the book covers her roles in the Harry Potter films and “Downton Abbey.”

I rarely read biographies of actors so I have little to compare this too. But I felt Coveney just gave boilerplate descriptions of her various roles and failed to dig into her private life. I do realize Smith is reclusive and very private but I feel a good biographer overcomes that problem and digs deep into the subject’s life. I felt the author should have done a better job with this biography. Sian Thomas did an excellent job narrating the story.

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15 of 19 people found this review helpful


By Nora on 01-09-16

Love letter from a fan

What disappointed you about Maggie Smith?

Nothing about Maggie Smith disappointed me. She never fails to be a wonderful performer.

What could Michael Coveney have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Drool less!! this is a book full of adulation from a lovesick fan. I got no sense of the real person behind "Maggie Smith"

What three words best describe Sian Thomas’s voice?

Standard Broadcast English.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment, I wanted to know more about the human being rather than a detailed review of her career.

Any additional comments?

This author obviously idolizes Maggie Smith. However, she is a human being, complex and more than a brilliant actress

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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