Maggie Smith Talking Pictures


Maggie Smith

Sylvia Syms presents rarely seen footage from the BBC archives that explores the life and career of one of Britain's best-loved actresses, Maggie Smith.


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As one of Britain's best loved and most versatile actresses,

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Dame Maggie Smith has been delighting audiences

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for over 60 years.

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She is the double Oscar-winning queen of the comically arched

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eyebrow.

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The spiky, funny girl, who gave the acting world no choice

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but to take her seriously.

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The fact that she created some of her most popular

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characters in her 70s is just another testament to her talents.

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So how did this extraordinary career begin?

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Well, let's start with Maggie telling interviewer Clive Goodwin

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about the early days from a programme called Acting In The '60s.

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The very first definite step was when I was still at school.

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They had a frightfully good thing that when you'd finished general school certificates,

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usually you had two weeks at the end of term, which was kind of dead

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time, and I immediately went to the Oxford Playhouse,

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where I got a job, which was for two weeks,

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to be in The Happiest Days Of Your Life.

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To play the Scots girl, you, know, Elizabeth Colhoun.

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This was immediately trodden on, and I wasn't allowed to do it.

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So then, I decided to go to drama school.

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I had made up my mind to do that anyway before I left school.

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They started a drama school in Oxford where I lived.

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It was attached at that time to the Playhouse.

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And I went there for two years. I wanted very much to go to RADA.

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It was everybody's dream to go to RADA, and my parents, quite rightly,

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didn't want me to go to London when I was 16, and live on my own.

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And from drama school you went where?

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When I was at the Playhouse, I used to work in university

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productions, because they did an awful lot there,

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and they did lots of cabarets and revues, and they were

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all run by Ned Sherrin and Desmond O'Donovan, people like that.

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And I did those endlessly.

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If you were bright enough at Oxford,

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you could almost do weekly rep around the colleges.

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You could get enough productions to do a term, to keep you very busy.

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-And you were playing light parts, comedy parts?

-Yes, always.

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I was always, always in revue and cabaret. I don't know why.

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I did do Twelfth Night.

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-I suppose that was one of the first, the earliest things I did.

-Playing?

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Playing Viola.

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And then the revues I was in were taken up to Edinburgh,

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and we did Fringe productions.

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I think it was the first Fringe shows up there.

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It was through one of those late-night revues that you

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-got the mythical break.

-The break.

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Yes, it was in... One of them we did on the Fringe, and they brought

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down to London to the Watergate, which doesn't exist any more.

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The Watergate Theatre. I can't remember which one it was called.

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I think it was Oxford Eight or one of those things.

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Which was seen by the American director, who then took me

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-to Broadway. It was called New Faces.

-And was it successful?

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It was moderately successful, yes.

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It was rather sad because everybody in it expected it to be a huge

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success, as the one before had been, and obviously it wasn't.

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And everybody who went into thought, "Oh, we're going to come out stars," because...

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-Did you think that?

-I don't know what I think.

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I was so overwhelmed at the thought of going.

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In actual fact, I didn't enjoy it at all, but I was so excited by it.

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I thought anything could happen.

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I suppose I must have thought I would come back a great, huge star.

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-And then you came back to London.

-I came back for a holiday, actually.

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Then I did a television here, called Boy Meets Girl, which

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Silvio Narizzano directed.

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And also Michael Codron asked me to do Share My Lettuce with Kenneth Williams.

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And I decided to stay.

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Again, more light comedy. Was this what you wanted to do?

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I didn't really want to do it. Yet it became... It became a kind of habit.

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Everybody thought of me in that way.

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They thought of me as always in revue or a revue artist.

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And it became absolutely stuck.

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I don't think I really thought about it very much.

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I think I was so overwhelmed

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and so carried away with myself.

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-At working at all?

-At working at all, yes, that I was rather grateful for that.

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Now we're going to have a look at a clip from one of your films,

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The Pumpkin Eater.

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You play the au pair girl at a rather unconventional household.

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The mother is played by Anne Bancroft,

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and you are discussing the merits of her husband, played by Peter Finch.

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You're discussing his merits as a father.

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Wives don't usually like me. I like them, that's the funny thing.

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I seem to worry them somehow.

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I don't know, they get so ratty, people's wives.

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Funny thing is, I like them better than their husbands.

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Do you think that's funny? Perhaps I'm not normal.

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I'm sure I'm normal, really. Perhaps it's just un-abnormal.

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I can't see how I can be, can you? I mean, I've been told I'm frigid.

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I don't see how you can tell. Honestly, how can you tell?

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I shouldn't think you are.

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Anyway, you don't look it.

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I think you're marvellous. I really do.

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I think you're absolutely marvellous. You are so capable.

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All you do, all the children and everything. The way you cope.

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Of course, Jake is the most fabulous husband and father.

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He has been the most fabulous husband...

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-Can I get into...

-Oh!

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The most fabulous husband.

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-How many are his?

-Er, one.

-One.

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One is his.

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-The others aren't his?

-No, they're not.

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Still, he's a wonderful father to them all, isn't he?

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Do you enjoy filming?

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-Not very much, no.

-Why not?

-I don't know.

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I think you have to be a screen actress.

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I really don't think I am. You have to have a completely

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different outlook.

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By the time I get on the floor after two and a half hours

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of make-up, I find it impossible.

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And also the lack of contact, the fact there isn't an audience,

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the fact it is all a question of how you look.

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People are always, always worried, always around you all the time,

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trying to make you look like this. Your costume isn't right.

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I don't know, I found by the end of the day that one's morale was

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so low that maybe the camera's

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so close, that you feel you can't do anything because it will look ugly.

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You get so concerned with the fact you are in the wrong light,

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or if you do that it's unattractive on camera, and you mustn't do this.

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You get so uninhibited, at least I do, that I tend not to do anything.

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I always feel... I'm fine in a film if I'm acting a neurotic person or a small,

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tight, shy person. That's not quite so difficult.

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Maggie may not have liked film acting

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but the film world liked her,

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and two years after that interview, she won the Best Actress Oscar

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for an unforgettable performance in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie.

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Later she would discuss her triumph with Michael Aspel

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in the 1970 programme Personal Cinema.

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The conversation here begins with a question about her Brodie

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co-star and then husband, Robert Stephens.

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Your husband is a distinguished actor

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and a busy one too. Do you ever meet?

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Yes, we meet quite a lot at the moment

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because we're working together. So we do meet, yes.

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You've worked together more than once.

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-You were together in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie.

-Yes, we were in that

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and we have worked together a lot at the National.

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That is where we're working now, so we do really see quite a lot of each other.

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Do you enjoy it? It's obviously nice to see each other.

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Yes, because when Robert was filming himself, I didn't see him at all.

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What about filming?

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You're not too keen on the rigours of filming, are you?

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No, because I think rigours is exactly it.

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I think it's...

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I have great admiration for people who work only in the films,

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because I think it's just a killing existence to work those hours.

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Also it's very isolating because you only meet the people you're

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working with in the unit. You can't have any other existence at all.

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There must be advantages.

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What about the range of characters and parts you can play in the cinema.

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-That you can play in the cinema?

-Hmm.

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Well, that's true,

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but there are an awful lot of things you can play in the theatre, and there

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really aren't an awful lot of parts for women in the film industry at the moment.

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I suppose the lack of teamwork and cohesion, continuity,

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-must be one of the great drawbacks?

-Yes, that is true.

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Again, it's difficult for me to judge

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because Brodie is the longest film, the longest part I've

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ever had in a film and therefore I did get to know people,

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I didn't just drift in and out of the studio for two days here or

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a week there.

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So, it did have more continuity than anything else I've worked on.

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You've got more awards than most people can fit on one mantelpiece.

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What is your feeling about awards?

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I don't really know. It seems to me...

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-I suppose you're talking about Oscar awards.

-Well, and practically everything else

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-I read you seem to have picked up.

-Well, awards...

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are always... I mean, they're nice to have and they're very rewarding to have,

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when you realise you've been awarded them

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by people who are in your own profession.

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Therefore, one can't treat them lightly.

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They are very meaningful, as far as that is concerned.

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When people ask you, "What will it mean to you now you've got this

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"award," it's difficult to say what it means.

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It just means you want to go on and hope you can live up to it, really.

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Yes, that's the thing.

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I suppose it stimulates in one way and the other thing is,

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-"Oh, my goodness, I've got to live up to it."

-Yes.

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You won the Oscar for Jean Brodie.

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You weren't able to collect it yourself, were you?

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-No, because I was opening here in a play.

-Yes.

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Have you been in America when the awards are handed out?

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-What sort of atmosphere is it?

-No, I haven't.

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We were there in Los Angeles on tour with the National Theatre,

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when the nominations came out.

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That was hysterical enough, so I really,

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I dread to think what happens on the actual occasion.

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Even seeing the replay of the Academy Awards,

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which we saw on television, one felt nervous then.

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We knew the result, but it seems odd that kind of mounting...

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I suppose that really is the one award that nobody knows

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anything about anyway, until the last moment.

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Maggie Smith, the interesting thing is, with all your acclaim,

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you're not over jubilant.

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You've been described as "Miss Downbeat"

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that you look on life with "great suspicion",

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"the brighter the prospects, the deeper the gloom."

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What do you say about that?

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I suppose it must be true. I don't know why.

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Perhaps it's...

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Perhaps it's because, you know, when things go well

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it is a bit alarming.

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I sometimes think that I've had so much luck,

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so much good fortune that...

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er...

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it frightens me, somehow.

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I always feel there's got to be...

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Something, you know, must go wrong somewhere.

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Maybe I'm just always waiting for it.

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Well, it hasn't happened yet.

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Several years ago, after yet another successful first night...

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-That's not wood. It's plastic, unfortunately.

-Oh.

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I think it was the rehearsal of Anouilh,

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and somebody asked what would you do next,

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and you said, "I think I'll go to the pictures. What's on?"

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Is that your normal form of relaxation?

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Well, er...

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It was then, I must say.

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Because that was a long run.

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Believe me, when you're in a long run

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you want to get out and see as much as you can and relax.

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At the moment, and working the way I do at the moment,

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I very rarely have that time.

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One rehearses during the day...

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You go on tour.

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It's not all that easy.

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What about filming one of these Restoration comedies that you revel in?

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I don't think they would film.

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Well, Taming Of The Shrew worked very well.

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-That's not Restoration, but it...

-Yes, I can see that.

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Maybe you could film a play like the one I'm in now,

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which is a Farquar comedy which is much later on

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and is much simpler.

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But I really don't think anybody would want to see these people

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with snuffboxes and fans waving about all over the place.

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I think it'd be just boring.

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And also the plots are so complicated

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and the language is so convoluted,

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nobody could be bothered, I don't think.

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You took a year off completely,

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-when your first child was born.

-Mm.

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Was that hell? I mean being away from work?

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To be honest, yes, it was.

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It wasn't hell to begin with.

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And then I got more and more moody and grumpy.

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And I realised it was just silly to try and stay at home.

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But, in actual fact, it was marvellous because

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going back after being away from work for that length of time,

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I felt in some way that

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I'd recharged my batteries somehow.

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The break was good.

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You can work too much.

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You spent six weeks recently

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in Los Angeles with the National Theatre.

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Do you think it helped you -

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making that contact with American audiences -

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to win the Oscar for Miss Jean Brodie?

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I think it probably did have a lot to do with it, because...

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the theatre itself got coverage

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in the newspapers there.

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And I think, on the whole, people really don't know who I am.

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I just think it sort of jogged their memory in some way.

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Yes.

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Well, we're going to see a clip

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from Miss Jean Brodie -

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a very interesting clip, which you specially requested -

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where you and Celia Johnson,

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as the highly disapproving headmistress,

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confront each other about the letter that has been sent,

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or hidden so that she will find it, by one of girls.

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-Thank you.

-Let's see.

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Do you know what this is?

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It would appear to be a piece of blue paper with writing on it in pencil.

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It is, in fact, a letter.

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It was found by Miss McKenzie in a library book.

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She glanced at it, but after the first sentence,

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she dare not actually read it.

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She brought it instantly to me.

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Yes... Is it addressed to you?

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No, Miss Brodie.

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It is addressed to Mr Lowther, but it is signed by you.

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-I shall begin.

-Oh, please do.

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Of course, I realise it is a forgery.

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It is the work of a child.

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SHE CLEARS HER THROAT

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"My dear delightful Gordon.

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"Your letter has moved me deeply, as you may imagine,

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"but, alas, I must ever decline to be Mrs Lowther.

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"My reasons are twofold.

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"I am dedicated to my girls,

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"as is Madam Pavlova,

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"and there was another in my life.

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"He is Teddy Lloyd.

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"Intimacy has never taken place with him, he is married to another.

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"We are not lovers, but we know the truth.

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"However, I was proud of giving myself to you

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"when you came and took me in the bracken

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"while the storm raged about us.

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"If I am in a certain condition

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"I shall place the infant in the care

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"of a worthy shepherd and his wife.

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"I may permit misconduct

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"to occur again from time to time as an outlet,

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"because I am in my prime.

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"We can also have many a...breezy day in the fishing boat at sea.

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"We must keep a sharp lookout for Miss Mackay, however,

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"as she is rather narrow,

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"which arises from an ignorance of culture and the Italian scene.

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"I love to hear you singing Hey, Johnnie Cope,

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"but were I to receive a proposal of marriage tomorrow

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"from the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, I would decline it.

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"Allow me, in conclusion, to congratulate you warmly

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"on your sexual intercourse, as well as your singing.

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"With fondest joy, Jean Brodie."

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Is this what your girls, your set,

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have learned under your auspices, Miss Brodie?

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It is a literary collaboration.

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Two separate hands are involved.

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One of the authors slants her tail consonants in an unorthodox manner

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and the other does not.

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Also, the paper seems somewhat aged.

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Is that all you have to say?

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What else is there to say?

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Two little girls at the age of budding sexual fantasy

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have concocted a romance for themselves.

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They've chosen me as a romantic symbol.

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Is that so surprising?

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You and Celia Johnson, and Gordon Jackson hovering nervously

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in the background.

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Lovely Kelvinside accents there.

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Did they take long to perfect?

0:18:220:18:24

No, we had a very good dialogue coach.

0:18:240:18:26

A very good girl called Margaret Gordon

0:18:260:18:28

who was at the Gillespie school in Edinburgh,

0:18:280:18:31

which is, in actual fact, the school where

0:18:310:18:34

a teacher like Miss Brodie did exist.

0:18:340:18:36

Oh, I see.

0:18:360:18:38

Now, your own style invites bizarre descriptions.

0:18:380:18:40

For example, "a voice like an undisciplined slate pencil",

0:18:400:18:43

but you sang like a good 'un in Oh! What A Lovely War, didn't you?

0:18:430:18:46

Pre-recorded, I hasten to add.

0:18:460:18:48

What would you not turn your talents to?

0:18:480:18:51

I don't know.

0:18:540:18:56

I mean...

0:18:560:18:58

Give me a start.

0:18:580:19:00

Do you mean would I romp around nude,

0:19:000:19:01

or would I be in one of those kind of films?

0:19:010:19:04

For example.

0:19:040:19:05

Well, for example, no. I don't think I would.

0:19:050:19:08

I think I'd have a go at anything if it were interesting...enough.

0:19:100:19:15

And if I liked the script.

0:19:150:19:17

One of the scripts Smith did like

0:19:170:19:20

was a film version of the Graham Greene novel

0:19:200:19:23

Travels With My Aunt.

0:19:230:19:24

Katharine Hepburn had been due to star as Aunt Augusta Bertram,

0:19:240:19:28

but when she fell out with the producers, Maggie got the part.

0:19:280:19:32

The role earned her another Oscar nomination,

0:19:320:19:35

which she discussed on Parkinson in 1973,

0:19:350:19:39

alongside fellow guest Sir John Betjeman.

0:19:390:19:43

What exactly does that mean to you,

0:19:430:19:45

when you hear that you've been nominated?

0:19:450:19:47

Are you pleased, or...?

0:19:470:19:48

Well, yes, I'm...I'm very, very pleased

0:19:480:19:51

and it's because I was very much last minute in the film.

0:19:510:19:55

-Yes, Katharine Hepburn was due to star.

-Yes, exactly.

0:19:550:19:58

And for reasons that I don't think are unclear to anybody

0:19:580:20:01

except for Miss Hepburn obviously,

0:20:010:20:03

and the powers that be in MGM - I don't really know what happened.

0:20:030:20:08

But, I am delighted because there were many struggles in the film.

0:20:080:20:13

The fact of the age, and the make-up and many, many things.

0:20:130:20:17

And also I'm very pleased for Bobby Fryer,

0:20:170:20:20

-who in actual fact produced Brodie...

-Jean Brodie, right.

0:20:200:20:24

..and who he really fought tooth and nail for me to play the part.

0:20:240:20:28

And this is also a film of his,

0:20:280:20:30

so I'm very glad for him.

0:20:300:20:33

Do you think you've got a chance?

0:20:330:20:35

I honestly don't think so, this time.

0:20:350:20:37

-Why not?

-I didn't before.

0:20:370:20:39

I just don't think so, this time. I really, really don't.

0:20:390:20:41

No. Will you be going to the ceremony?

0:20:410:20:44

-No, I can't. I'll be working here.

-Of course, you're working.

0:20:440:20:47

-For which I'm deeply relieved.

-Really?

0:20:470:20:49

Because I have been there,

0:20:490:20:50

I was there when we were playing in Los Angeles,

0:20:500:20:53

and I had to present an award to, in actual fact, John Mills.

0:20:530:20:57

And it is the most terrifying experience ever.

0:20:570:21:03

Why?

0:21:030:21:04

I don't know. I think it's probably because it's the one award

0:21:040:21:08

in the world that people really do not know...

0:21:080:21:11

They just do not know.

0:21:110:21:13

And there is something so...

0:21:130:21:16

..naked and unkind.

0:21:170:21:19

The cameras go in on all the people who are likely to get it

0:21:190:21:23

and the hope in their faces...

0:21:230:21:27

and then when it goes, you know...

0:21:270:21:29

And they've all got those stitched on smiles.

0:21:300:21:33

Well, they obviously want it so desperately.

0:21:330:21:35

And, of course, there it does mean much more than it does to us here.

0:21:350:21:39

An Oscar is a tremendous, tremendous award to get, really.

0:21:390:21:46

But did it mean anything for you, though in real terms, Maggie,

0:21:460:21:49

when you won it for Jean Brodie? In terms of work?

0:21:490:21:51

Did all of a sudden people start ringing you up.

0:21:510:21:54

No. There is a kind of legend

0:21:540:21:57

which has happened since the Oscars -

0:21:570:21:59

they always say that you DON'T work very much after it.

0:21:590:22:03

I don't understand why.

0:22:030:22:05

I think it goes back to the fact

0:22:050:22:07

that if you won an Oscar in the old days, let us say,

0:22:070:22:12

your salary immediately jumped enormously.

0:22:120:22:14

And, of course, that cannot happen now, it's unrealistic.

0:22:140:22:18

So the money thing doesn't come into it.

0:22:180:22:21

But there is this odd thing

0:22:210:22:23

that you don't get offered work because of an Oscar.

0:22:230:22:27

-I don't know why.

-What do you do with the statuette?

0:22:270:22:30

Put it on a sideboard at home?

0:22:300:22:31

Mine is actually holding a door open.

0:22:310:22:34

-Really?

-Yes!

0:22:340:22:36

No, it's very friendly, actually.

0:22:360:22:38

It's extremely useful for it.

0:22:380:22:40

-Is that gold?

-No, it's not gold.

0:22:400:22:43

It's extremely heavy.

0:22:430:22:45

And no doubt very useful if intruders, come in.

0:22:450:22:48

Can I ask you about playing comedy, erm...Maggie?

0:22:480:22:51

Because it delights you, obviously.

0:22:510:22:53

-To do comedy. You like doing comedy.

-Yes, I do.

0:22:530:22:56

Does one necessarily have to be a funny person to be a comedienne?

0:22:560:22:59

No, I think, in actual fact, an awful lot of people who are in comedy

0:22:590:23:05

-are very serious.

-Yes.

0:23:050:23:07

It's an old saying that comedy is a serious business, but it is, really.

0:23:070:23:10

Yes.

0:23:100:23:11

Let's... Go on.

0:23:110:23:14

Just...in a moment. Can we show a scene, first of all?

0:23:140:23:16

Which shows Miss Smith in her role as a comedienne?

0:23:160:23:21

-I have your permission to do that, Sir John?

-Rather!

0:23:210:23:24

-I'd love to see it.

-All right, fine. It's coming up now.

0:23:240:23:26

And it's from the new film of Maggie Smith.

0:23:260:23:29

Henry!

0:23:320:23:34

Oh!

0:23:340:23:35

Good morning, Henry!

0:23:350:23:37

-Aunt!

-Where is Wordsworth?

0:23:370:23:38

In Paris.

0:23:380:23:40

Do you know what that bastard did?

0:23:400:23:42

He mixed pot with my mother's ashes!

0:23:420:23:43

-No regard!

-Poor Henry.

0:23:450:23:48

Poor Henry? Poor mother! I mean, poor...

0:23:480:23:51

-Well, poor Angelica, you mean!

-Yes!

0:23:510:23:53

Well, now, calm down, Henry. Calm down, Henry.

0:23:530:23:55

What is done, cannot be undone.

0:23:550:23:58

They're putting all the blame on poor Wordsworth.

0:23:580:24:01

Well, you may be in serious trouble too, Aunt Augusta.

0:24:010:24:03

And so may you, Henry.

0:24:030:24:05

A spot of unpleasantness, at least.

0:24:050:24:07

You know the press.

0:24:070:24:08

The press?

0:24:080:24:09

Yes. "Bank manager conceals pot in mother's ashes?"

0:24:090:24:14

That's the sort of slander.

0:24:140:24:16

TRAIN CLATTERS

0:24:160:24:17

I have... I have a small...

0:24:170:24:19

I have a small commission...

0:24:190:24:22

I have a small commission, which necessitates my going to Paris.

0:24:220:24:26

All things considered, I think it best if you

0:24:270:24:30

come along with me.

0:24:300:24:32

I booked two seats on the BA three o'clock flight.

0:24:320:24:34

Paris?

0:24:340:24:36

But, well, I'm not accustomed to foreign travel.

0:24:360:24:38

You'll take to it quickly enough in MY company.

0:24:380:24:42

But...m-m-my dahlias?!

0:24:420:24:45

Pack, Henry.

0:24:460:24:48

Pack?

0:24:480:24:49

Pack.

0:24:520:24:53

APPLAUSE

0:25:010:25:06

I think the first thing that should be explained, though, Maggie,

0:25:060:25:10

in case people think it's a different person sitting here,

0:25:100:25:12

is...you're playing a 70-year-old woman

0:25:120:25:14

Of an indeterminate age, she's described.

0:25:140:25:16

Where do you get that voice from, by the way? Where does that...?

0:25:160:25:19

I've no idea, actually.

0:25:190:25:22

It was, as I said, all in such a rush.

0:25:220:25:25

I think once I've got the make-up and those extraordinary costumes,

0:25:250:25:29

which were marvellous -

0:25:290:25:31

and done by Anthony Powell who did the sets for Private Lives -

0:25:310:25:36

once it all got together it just, sort of, came.

0:25:360:25:39

That's amazing. Once you're dressed in the part, the voice...

0:25:390:25:43

-Yes, it's a physical thing.

-The voice just grew out of it?

0:25:430:25:46

Just grew out of it.

0:25:460:25:47

The Academy Award eluded Maggie on that occasion,

0:25:470:25:50

but five years later she did win the Best Supporting Actress

0:25:500:25:55

starring opposite Michael Caine in California Suite.

0:25:550:25:58

The 1980s were a blur of awards -

0:25:590:26:02

Maggie won the best actress BAFTA three years in succession

0:26:020:26:06

for A Private Function, A Room With A View,

0:26:060:26:09

and The Lonely Passion Of Judith Herne.

0:26:090:26:11

Perhaps not surprisingly, after a run like that,

0:26:130:26:16

the 1990s saw her made a dame for Services To The Performing Arts.

0:26:160:26:21

And so it was as Dame Maggie Smith,

0:26:210:26:25

that she made this appearance on Barry Norman's Film '93,

0:26:250:26:29

looking back on her career

0:26:290:26:30

and discussing her role in The Secret Garden.

0:26:300:26:33

What you have been doing lately, it seems to me,

0:26:360:26:39

is alternating smaller independent movies like

0:26:390:26:43

The Lonely Passion Of Judith Herne

0:26:430:26:44

and now The Secret Garden which we'll come to in a minute,

0:26:440:26:47

with glossy Hollywood movies

0:26:470:26:49

like Hook and Sister Act and now Sister Act II.

0:26:490:26:52

Now, is this a game plan?

0:26:520:26:54

No. No, it's not by design, at all.

0:26:540:26:55

Quite honestly I just go where...

0:26:550:26:57

If there's work, I do it.

0:26:570:26:59

And if there isn't work, I don't do it. It's as simple as that.

0:26:590:27:02

And I have never worked by design or with any plan in mind, at all.

0:27:020:27:05

It's just these things come up

0:27:050:27:08

and I kind of go ahead and do them.

0:27:080:27:11

For instance, Hook.

0:27:110:27:12

The 93-year-old Wendy Darling.

0:27:120:27:14

Hook, I did, because they had a lot of trouble finding a Wendy.

0:27:140:27:18

And they went on and on and on

0:27:180:27:21

and really I blame Anthony Powell,

0:27:210:27:23

who's a dear, dear friend,

0:27:230:27:25

who was doing the clothes

0:27:250:27:27

and he kept saying that I could do it.

0:27:270:27:30

And, finally, Steven said, "Well, how old is Maggie Smith?"

0:27:300:27:33

And Anthony said without blinking, "96."

0:27:330:27:36

So, I sort of went ahead and did it.

0:27:360:27:39

It was hell, actually.

0:27:390:27:42

But you did it as an act of charity to help the poor struggling young

0:27:420:27:45

-Steven Spielberg?

-No, no. Oh, no, no.

0:27:450:27:47

Not at all. I mean, I got the part and I was delighted to have it.

0:27:470:27:51

Otherwise, I mean, I would never work with someone like Steven Spielberg.

0:27:510:27:54

That in itself was interesting.

0:27:540:27:56

I mean, it was extraordinary.

0:27:560:27:58

He works at such speed always.

0:27:580:28:00

He wants to get on.

0:28:000:28:01

He's got film coming out of his fingers almost.

0:28:010:28:04

A strange, strange thing.

0:28:060:28:08

Why have you been playing very old ladies lately. I mean, 93 in Hook...

0:28:080:28:11

I think, because I am an old lady!

0:28:110:28:13

Oh, nonsense.

0:28:130:28:15

You are Maggie Smith and you are in your prime.

0:28:150:28:17

No, no. I think this is... I think it just happens.

0:28:170:28:22

I am always...

0:28:220:28:23

I'm always playing these sort of rather

0:28:230:28:26

sour, faded women.

0:28:260:28:28

And I'm always in corsets.

0:28:280:28:30

And I'm always in wigs

0:28:300:28:32

and I'm always in those buttoned boots.

0:28:320:28:34

It's sort of like a kind of...

0:28:340:28:36

It's typecasting, I suppose.

0:28:360:28:39

I have...

0:28:390:28:40

I can't remember when I last appeared in modern dress.

0:28:400:28:44

You know that it's often said that people become actors

0:28:440:28:47

because they have a certain shyness,

0:28:470:28:48

and are unsure of who they actually are. Would that be true of you?

0:28:480:28:52

I think it...

0:28:520:28:54

Yes, I think it's very, very true.

0:28:540:28:56

And the awful thing...

0:28:560:28:58

The really awful thing is that it doesn't get any better.

0:28:580:29:00

It's one of those weird things.

0:29:000:29:03

Because you never, never do find out who you are.

0:29:030:29:06

I was told that when you were doing The Lonely Passion Of Judith Herne,

0:29:060:29:10

which I imagine you must be very pleased with,

0:29:100:29:13

that on location in Dublin, you deliberately didn't stay

0:29:130:29:17

in the same hotel as everyone else

0:29:170:29:19

because you wanted to feel and taste the loneliness of living on your own.

0:29:190:29:23

-No!

-Like Olivier, when he said, "Have you tried acting?"

0:29:230:29:25

I just thought it made much more sense to be in a hotel

0:29:250:29:27

where you're on your own and you can get in the elevator...

0:29:270:29:30

Elevator? Lift. You can see I'm well travelled

0:29:300:29:33

and you go up to your room and that's it.

0:29:330:29:35

You don't actually go into the hotel.

0:29:350:29:37

see everybody at the bar, say

0:29:370:29:39

"Oh, hello, yes. Of course, yeah, I'll have..."

0:29:390:29:41

That way madness lies.

0:29:410:29:43

So, it's to do with weakness of character,

0:29:430:29:46

not trying to find one.

0:29:460:29:48

You've done a wide variety of roles.

0:29:480:29:51

I tell you, something you did, a very small part,

0:29:510:29:53

in a film which I think was greatly underrated -

0:29:530:29:56

-Oh! What A Lovely War. Dickie Attenborough.

-Oh, yeah.

0:29:560:29:58

I thought it was fascinating that when we first see you

0:29:580:30:01

you're terribly glamorous on the stage,

0:30:010:30:03

and you continue to be glamorous throughout the song

0:30:030:30:06

and then suddenly there's this quite harsh close-up.

0:30:060:30:09

Yeah, I'm very proud of that, because it was my idea.

0:30:090:30:12

-Oh, was it?

-Yeah. So, I was very, very pleased with that.

0:30:120:30:15

But that is a very frightening thing,

0:30:150:30:17

when you see them with an enormous amount of make-up

0:30:170:30:20

and you're looking completely startling and ludicrous, really.

0:30:200:30:26

Got a clip of that to show you, as well.

0:30:260:30:28

-Oh.

-Here you are singing.

0:30:280:30:30

I don't think I can even listen to this.

0:30:310:30:34

# If only other girls would do as I do

0:30:340:30:36

# I believe that we could manage it alone

0:30:360:30:40

# But I turn all suitors from me

0:30:400:30:42

# But the sailor and the Tommy

0:30:420:30:45

# I've an army and a navy of my own

0:30:450:30:49

# On Sunday I'd walk out with a soldier

0:30:490:30:53

# Monday I'm taken by a tar

0:30:530:30:56

# Tuesday I'm out with a baby boy scout

0:30:560:31:00

# On Wednesday a Hussar

0:31:000:31:03

# On Thursday I gang out wi' a Scottie

0:31:030:31:07

# On Friday the captain of the crew

0:31:070:31:10

# But on Saturday I'm willing

0:31:100:31:12

# If you'll only take the shilling

0:31:120:31:14

# To make a man of any one of you #

0:31:140:31:18

I enjoyed that. You obviously didn't.

0:31:200:31:22

-You sat with your fingers in your ears.

-No.

0:31:220:31:24

No, I've never been able to sing. Never ever.

0:31:240:31:27

You have a reputation, thoroughly deserved,

0:31:270:31:29

of stealing films from other people.

0:31:290:31:32

Michael Caine, when you got your second Oscar for California Suite,

0:31:320:31:35

he said you didn't just steal the film, you committed grand larceny.

0:31:350:31:39

And then when he heard that Michael Palin had cast you in The Missionary

0:31:390:31:43

his only advice to Palin was to watch out,

0:31:430:31:45

you'd "steal the film from under your feet".

0:31:450:31:48

-Is this deliberate, or does it just happen that way?

-Not at all.

0:31:480:31:51

It was Burton who started all that up.

0:31:510:31:53

Richard Burton saying that in The VIPs.

0:31:530:31:56

And that really was the wildest thing

0:31:560:31:58

because it was a scene that we shot

0:31:580:32:00

and I was told Margaret Rutherford is over there,

0:32:000:32:02

and so-and-so is over there, and Orson Wells is over there

0:32:020:32:05

and, of course, nobody is there, at all.

0:32:050:32:07

There was a kind of a bit of cardboard

0:32:070:32:10

with Richard sitting in front of it.

0:32:100:32:12

So one had to pretend all this was happening.

0:32:120:32:14

So under those circumstances it is quite difficult to do it by design.

0:32:140:32:19

I think it's just the parts are probably like that.

0:32:200:32:23

People always have sympathy for that kind of person.

0:32:230:32:28

The downtrodden aunt in the corsets and the boots that I'm always in.

0:32:280:32:33

In 1976, you went off to Stratford, Ontario for three years

0:32:330:32:37

and I think that was a bad time in your private life.

0:32:370:32:40

Your marriage to Robert Stephens was breaking.

0:32:400:32:42

Not good professionally.

0:32:420:32:44

It was said, probably not by you, but by somebody else,

0:32:440:32:47

and it may be the truth,

0:32:470:32:49

that you were running away to escape the demons and the pressures.

0:32:490:32:53

It wasn't a good time, obviously, when my marriage broke up.

0:32:530:32:57

That wasn't good.

0:32:570:32:59

I was also acting very, very badly.

0:32:590:33:02

I really was... Because of all kinds of pressures.

0:33:020:33:05

No reason for excuses, there aren't any.

0:33:050:33:07

And I was there, I was there for a long time.

0:33:070:33:10

But I was really, really glad

0:33:100:33:12

and really stimulated by being there.

0:33:120:33:15

It was great to be away from

0:33:150:33:18

the pressures of...

0:33:180:33:20

It just felt different doing all those plays

0:33:210:33:24

in the middle of a field in Ontario.

0:33:240:33:26

Somehow the pressures of the critics and things wasn't so strong.

0:33:260:33:31

You didn't feel...

0:33:320:33:34

I always feel...

0:33:340:33:36

nearly every time I do anything, that it's like an exam.

0:33:360:33:40

It always feels like that.

0:33:400:33:41

And that you get marks at the end.

0:33:410:33:44

That's how I think of reviews.

0:33:440:33:46

Now, of course, the film that is coming up is The Secret Garden,

0:33:460:33:50

which I must say I did enjoy immensely.

0:33:500:33:53

Again, what made you do that?

0:33:530:33:54

Was it simply that somebody offered you this script,

0:33:540:33:57

-with a very good role?

-Absolutely.

0:33:570:33:59

When I read the book, ages and ages ago,

0:33:590:34:02

the character that I was playing was not at all like me.

0:34:020:34:07

It was very different working on that film

0:34:070:34:10

because they treat children and animals quite well.

0:34:100:34:14

Which is nice to know.

0:34:140:34:16

So that was good. That was terrific.

0:34:160:34:19

So you didn't feel like a rag the entire time.

0:34:190:34:23

And Agnieszka - Heaven forfend that I say it's because she's a woman,

0:34:230:34:26

but it certainly had something to do with it -

0:34:260:34:29

would from time to time when we got to the end of a scene would say,

0:34:290:34:32

"Vy don't you go and take off these corsets and things,

0:34:320:34:36

"you will feel more comfortable."

0:34:360:34:38

That was wonderful.

0:34:380:34:40

Because, I can promise you I've spent weeks on end

0:34:400:34:44

in the wretched things on Merchant Ivory films.

0:34:440:34:47

Nobody would even...

0:34:470:34:49

They actually left me in corsets up a mountain once for days, I think!

0:34:490:34:54

and by then you're dead!

0:34:540:34:56

You look splendidly upholstered in your corsets in The Secret Garden.

0:34:560:35:00

Yes, I was quite upholstered in them.

0:35:000:35:03

I think you ought to have the opportunity to see at least a clip.

0:35:030:35:06

-I'd be interested.

-This is the bit where you, as the housekeeper,

0:35:060:35:09

comes to collect the little girl at the station.

0:35:090:35:12

Is that Mary Lennox?

0:35:150:35:17

Number 43.

0:35:170:35:19

Yes, Mary Lennox.

0:35:190:35:20

I've come to claim her.

0:35:200:35:21

I'm Mrs Medlock.

0:35:220:35:24

Housekeeper at Misselthwaite Manor.

0:35:240:35:26

The Lord Archibald Craven, her uncle and guardian.

0:35:260:35:31

What a queer, unresponsive little thing.

0:35:310:35:34

And, my word, a plain piece of goods.

0:35:340:35:37

Her mother was a beauty.

0:35:370:35:39

She certainly didn't hand much of it down, did she?

0:35:390:35:42

Oh, she might improve as she gets older. Children change.

0:35:420:35:45

She'll have to change quite a bit.

0:35:450:35:48

If you ask me, there's not much to improve her at Misselthwaite Manor.

0:35:480:35:52

Come along.

0:35:520:35:54

You're a mistress of accents!

0:35:570:35:59

Dear little Kate - wonderful face, isn't it? Kate Maberly.

0:35:590:36:03

When you look back now over your career,

0:36:030:36:06

you must be fairly chuffed at the way things have turned out.

0:36:060:36:08

Nothing has changed. It's still as precarious as it ever was.

0:36:080:36:12

There's another wonderful thing

0:36:120:36:14

that I wanted to do with Lindsay Anderson,

0:36:140:36:17

and we tried to set it up.

0:36:170:36:19

It's a Chekov, and, of course, that's difficult,

0:36:190:36:22

and the producer had sent it to several companies -

0:36:220:36:25

God knows, it might be this one, for all I know! -

0:36:250:36:28

and he got a letter back which said "Dear Mr Chekov, thank you for..."

0:36:280:36:31

Now, that's terrifying, isn't it?

0:36:310:36:34

I have seen a Xerox of the letter!

0:36:340:36:39

Now, you must take satisfaction out of some of the things you have done.

0:36:390:36:42

Oh, yes! Oh, yes, I'm not saying I don't,

0:36:420:36:45

but I'm just saying it doesn't guarantee

0:36:450:36:47

you will ever do anything else, that's all.

0:36:470:36:50

So, if I say "What does the future hold?"

0:36:500:36:52

-You'll say you haven't the faintest idea?

-I haven't the faintest idea.

0:36:520:36:55

I really haven't the faintest idea.

0:36:550:36:57

But it better be something soon,

0:36:570:36:59

because I shall drive everybody mad if I don't work. I know that.

0:36:590:37:03

Of course more work did come,

0:37:030:37:04

along with more praise and awards.

0:37:040:37:07

Today Dame Maggie's profile is higher than ever.

0:37:070:37:10

Scene-stealing performances in Downton Abbey,

0:37:100:37:14

and the Harry Potter movies,

0:37:140:37:15

meaning this national treasure is recognised right across the world.

0:37:150:37:20

When most would be well into retirement,

0:37:200:37:23

she carries on, saying of acting, "I love it!

0:37:230:37:27

"I'm privileged to do it and I don't know where I would be without it."

0:37:270:37:31

Sylvia Smith narrates a look at the life of one of Britain's best and best-loved actresses, with classic archive footage of her appearances on the BBC demonstrating that when it comes to movie stardom, there really is nothing like a dame.


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