Happy Birthday, Maggie Smith: Celebrate the Dowager Countess with a Few of Her Other Fantastic Roles

Happy birthday to the Dowager Countess herself! The incomparable Dame Maggie Smith turns 78 today.

Last year, we celebrated with our favorite Lady Violet moments, but this year it seemed worthwhile to celebrate Smith’s entire catalog of fantastic performances, especially as there are likely some people who have come to know her primarily from her role on Downton Abbey and are subsequently missing out on a lot of great films! 

Ten of my favorite Dame Maggie performances (complete with trailers) are below – what are yours? Did I leave out something must-see? 

Quartet. In her most recent film, Smith stars as a retired opera diva who moves to a retirement home for former musicians and, well, behaves like a diva. The stellar cast includes Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Michael Gambon, and the film is directed by none other than Dustin Hoffman

Quartet Trailer (Dustin Hoffman)

Downton Abbey. Though most of us have doubtless seen Smith’s award-winning turn as the acerbic head of the Crawley clan, it’s never too soon to relive some of her best one-liners.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A 2012 British comedy-drama in which Smith stars opposite Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson and Dev Patel. It’s a charming film about a group of British retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel (guess what: it’s not). 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Trailer Official [HD]

Gosford Park. A 2001 British mystery comedy-drama, Gosford Park is also written by Downton creator Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for it). Its ensemble cast includes Smith alongside such luminaries as Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates and Michael Gambon, Smith also received an Oscar nomination for her performance in this film, and she and Mirren are its real standouts. 

Gosford Park - Trailer

The Harry Potter Movies. Smith played Professor Minerva McGonagall, the Head of Gryffindor House, in all eight of the Harry Potter films. She even filmed several of the Potter movies while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, which makes her involvement (and great performance) even more impressive. 

Harry Potter and the deathly hallows - Severus Snape vs Minerva Mcgonagall [HD]

Ladies in Lavender. I’ve a weakness for Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in movies together, can you tell? Dench and Smith play sisters who befriend a mysterious foreigner who washes up on the beach of their 1930s Cornish village. The two of them are just wonderful opposite one another. 

Ladies in Lavender (2004) Trailer

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Smith plays Caro Bennett in this adaptation of Rebecca Wells’ popular 90s novel. The film is pretty much just mediocre, but it’s worth a look because, well, when else can you watch the Downager Countess do a quasi-Southern accent?

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - Trailer HD

Tea with Mussolini. A very sweet and surprisingly moving film starring Smith, Judi Dench, Lily Tomlin, Joan Plowright and, believe it or not, Cher, Tea with Mussolini tells the story of a young Italian boy brought up by a group of expatriated British ladies (known as the “Scorpioni”) and the various problems they face in the years leading up to World War II. Basically, this is a bit like watching The Dowager Countess Goes to Italy at some points, and it’s pretty awesome. Smith won a BAFTA for her performance in this film.

Tea with Mussolini Official Trailer #1 - Maggie Smith Movie (1999) HD

Sister Act. This is a silly, silly, silly movie, but the songs are infectious and Smith’s Mother Superior is pretty awesome. 

Sister Act (1992) Trailer

A Room with a View. A Merchant and Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel of Edwardian manners starring Smith alongside such familiar faces as Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Judi Dench, Rupert Graves and more. Smith was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Charlotte Bartlett. 

Sadly, every trailer I kind find online is for the 2008 remake that starred Elaine Cassidy, so everyone will have to make do with just this photo of Dame Maggie's truly epic hairstyle from the film. (I'll keep looking for a trailer or some clips - this version is quite good and definitely worth watching!)