Thursday, December 27, 2012

If you love the Dowager Countess of Grantham...

There are exactly ten days until the American broadcast of the third season of "Downton Abbey". I am super excited!!! (FREE BATES!!!)

Then again, there are still 10 days of waiting, and, during that time, lots of people are home for the holidays and are looking for something good to watch on television. And if you are like me and were at home watching TV this past weekend, you realized that 1. there really was nothing good on TV, and 2. if you found something good on, it was interrupted with a lot of commercials.

So if you are looking for some movies to watch over the Christmas Break to get you in the mood for the return of "Downton Abbey" (and more importantly, the return of Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, Queen of the One Liners), I would recommend checking out some of Dame Maggie Smith's other films via the library or Netflix or OnDemand.

In this film based on actual events, young orphan Luca is raised by a tight knit community of Englishwomen in 1930s Florence. The "Scorpioni" are presided over by Lady Hester Random (Smith), who routinely butts heads with the flamboyant, wealthy American Elsa Morganthal, played by Cher.  As WWII breaks out, the remaining holdouts among the Scorpioni are interned, young Luca joins the Italian resistance, and Elsa tries to avoid the Gestapo. The film is heartwarming and nail biting and just perfectly charming. (I think Lady Hester would give old Lady Grantham a run for her money.)

This understated black comedy centers around the family of a preoccupied vicar. He is so preoccupied that he fails to notice that: his attention-starved wife is on the brink of an affair; their teenage daughter is (inappropriately) boy-crazy; and their shy young son is being bullied at school. With the arrival of new housekeeper Grace (Smith), all of the family's problems miraculously start to fade away, although Grace's methods are a little less Mary Poppins and a little more Sweeney Todd. 

In this romance, Lucy Honeychurch, an Edwardian Englishwoman, has a holiday in Florence, Italy. While there, she encounters the passionate and eccentric George Emerson. Following the return to England, George steps back into Lucy's life, and she must decide whether to go through with marriage to her straight-laced fiance, Cecil, or follow her attraction to George. Smith plays Charlotte Bartlett, Lucy's prim, high-strung, spinster cousin/chaperone. Even though this is the complete opposite of her "Downton" role, she still steals every scene.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
This is Smith's break-out role, and she is brilliant in this drama about a very unconventional teacher in a girls' school in Scotland. Singling out the creme de la creme among her students, Jean Brodie broadens "her girls'" horizons with lessons on art, music, politics, and even love, but her headstrong methods and her over-romanticized view of the world (she loves Franco!) leads to clashes with both the headmistress and, eventually, the very girls on whom she has come to rely. 

David Copperfield 
This adaptation of the Dickens' classic has some stand-out performances; Smith's Betsy Trotwood (aunt of David Copperfield) is one of them. (It also is a pre-Harry Potter pairing with a very young Daniel Radcliffe.) This BBC/Masterpiece drama was my first exposure to David Copperfield, and I loved it, especially Maggie's magisterial (yet loving) Aunt Betsy. She makes quick work of Mr. Murdstone. Very Dowager-y.

And as as added Christmas bonus, I would also suggest watching From Time to Time.  This sweet (and somewhat bittersweet) Christmastime story set during WWII has a young man (Cranford's Alex Etal) returning to his father's ancestral home to share the holiday with his estranged grandmother (Smith). While there, he begins to encounter spectral phenomena, which may assist him in solving a centuries' old mystery about the house. In addition to having a screenplay penned by Julian Fellowes, this film has the added bonus of performances from a number of other Downton cast members: Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Allen Leech (Tom Branson), David Robb (Dr. Clarkson), and Christine Lohr (Mrs. Bird).

If you have any suggestions for other great Maggie Smith performances (Clash of the Titans, Gosford Park, the Harry Potter films), please leave your own recommendations in the comments!


  1. I love Maggie Smith and have seen most of these, but I've never even heard of Keeping Mum. I'll look into it!

    1. Keeping Mum is totally hilarious in seriously unexpected ways. I hope you like it!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...