Born in December 1934, Dame Maggie Smith’s family moved to Oxford when she was four years old after her father, a public health pathologist, secured a position at Oxford University. She attended OHS until she was sixteen, when she left to study acting at the Oxford Playhouse. In 1952, aged 17, Smith began her career under the auspices of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, playing the role of Viola in Twelfth Night.
Her career as a film and stage actress took off soon afterwards, as she received her first BAFTA nomination in 1958 for the film Nowhere to Go and the first of five Evening Standard Awards for Best Actress being in 1962 for her performance in Peter Shaffer’s The Private Ear and the Public Eye. She subsequently became a fixture at the Royal National Theatre, most notably for playing Desdemona in Othello opposite Laurence Olivier, a performance which led, in the film adaptation, to the first of six Academy Award nominations.
“One went to school, one wanted to act, one started to act, and one’s still acting.”
In the course of a long, illustrious and impeccably poised career, Dame Maggie Smith has won a further four Evening Standard Awards for Best Actress, for her performances in Hedda Gabler (1970), Virginia (1981), The Way of the World (1984), and Three Tall Women (1994). This record-breaking run of theatrical success in the UK is complemented by similar achievements on the New York stage, where Dame Maggie has received Tony Award nominations for Private Lives (1975), Night and Day (1979), and Lettice and Lovage (1990), for the latter of which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
On screen, Dame Maggie has been nominated for Academy Awards a further five times following her 1965 nomination for Othello. She has won two Academy Awards, with a Best Actress Award for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1969 and a Best Supporting Actress Award for California Suite in 1978. She remains one of only six actresses to win the Academy Award in both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories. Dame Maggie has also won a record number of Best Actress BAFTA Awards plus Best Supporting Actress for the 1999 film Tea with Mussolini.BAFTA awarded her the Special Award in 1993 and the BAFTA Fellowship in 1996.
She is rightfully beloved by generations of Harry Potter fans for her performance as the stern yet kindly Professor McGonagall in all eight films within the Harry Potter franchise, and she has similarly sealed herself a place in the imaginations of adult viewers with her role as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, in Downton Abbey, for the latter of which she has received a Golden Globe, two Screen Actors Guild awards and two consecutive Emmy awards (making her one of the very few actors to receive the coveted ‘Triple Crown of Acting’, which is to say an Emmy, Tony and Oscar).
In 1990, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to the performing arts, in 2011 she received the Honorary Olivier Award and in 2014 she was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) for services to drama.
Dame Maggie serves as patron of the International Glaucoma Association and has been conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) by the Universities of St Andrews, Bath and Cambridge, and an Honorary Fellowship from Mansfield College within the University of Oxford.
In 1992, she was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of her outstanding contribution to film culture, and in 1994 she was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame Stars.