Dame Maggie Smith

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Dame Maggie Smith Pencil Portrait
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She has the workload of a woman half her age, and by her own admission, there is little chance of voluntarily slowing down. Work fills a void in her life, and she knows it.

Bereavement in 1998, after years of marriage to the love of her life, playwright Beverley Cross, has left a void that she fills by immersing herself in a role. After several years of widowhood, the veteran star admitted she was still struggling to come to terms with her husband’s death, saying: ‘Everybody says it gets better, but I don’t think it does. It gets different\’. Elaborating further on the subject of loneliness, she added : It seems a bit pointless. Going on one’s own and not having someone to share it with.’ Warming to the theme of aging, she also said she didn’t like it and added:

‘I don’t know who does. Noel Coward- and I don’t mean to name drop, but he said, ”The awful thing about getting old is that you have breakfast every half-hour.” And that’s sort of what it is. I can’t understand why everything has to go so fast\’.

Today, actuaries tell us that three women out of every five over the age of 75 live alone. Given that the life expectancy in Great Britain is 82 for women and 78 for men, this phenomenon seems strange, yet the gap is nonetheless, decidedly pronounced. Acknowledging the changes in this marketplace is key to understanding how modern day society has evolved.

A relict is an archaic term previously used in the colonial United States and England, to describe a widow. Fortunately, despite the obvious connotations with this out-dated word, bereaved partners are now, more than ever, finding their feet, their cause no more championed than by Dame Penelope Margaret Lively, DBE, FRSL. A prolific, popular and critically acclaimed author of fiction for both children and adults, she has won both the Booker Prize for British novels (\‘Moon Tiger\’, 1987) and the Carnegie Medal for British children\‘s books (\‘The Ghost of Thomas Kempe\’, 1973). Her website can be located at:


Lively writes of being acutely conscious of a silence since her husband died – the absence of his comments, his opinions, his view of the world, his reflections, his interventions and his advice. Once these sustaining elements of daily life go missing, their absence becomes palpable. Of course, the extent to which any woman can make the best of life alone depends on circumstance, just in the same way as facing down old age depends crucially on health and income. If an individual is not too beset by various age-related health problems, and is comfortably enough off to keep warm, fed, and interested in various activities, then circumstances will look a little brighter. One can safely presume that Dame Maggie Smith is sustained by the artistic satisfaction she derives from her varied film and television roles – how else would one explain her punishing work schedule for a woman close to eighty?

Recommended viewing

The V.I.P.s (1963)

The V.I.P.s was Maggie Smith’s third film. Unflinchingly loyal, and stoic in the face of seemingly unrequited love for her boss, played by Rod Taylor, she is the epitome of efficiency before going out on a limb to save his ailing business.

She was so good as the mousy secretary that Richard Burton, upon seeing their one scene together, said that she not only stole the scene, she “committed grand larceny.” Smith’s scenes with Rod Taylor were enhanced by a very real attraction between them. They would later co-star in ‘Young Cassidy’(1965), a script originally earmarked for the husband and wife team of Sean Connery and Diane Cilento.

Pitched alongside heavyweight competition and a motley group of British film stalwarts, Smith acquits herself with distinction, the touching sub plot one of several scenes providing welcome relief from the overwhelming tension between the key protagonists in the Taylor-Burton-Jourdan love triangle. As Taylor was quick to remind her audience, she hadn’t yet slept with Jourdan, but was merely leaving her husband for him. This dialogue may appear risible by today’s standards, but the film was shot between the publication of ‘Lady Chaterley’s lover’ and The Beatles first LP, and since sex in Britain had only just been invented, laughing is not permitted.

Hot Millions (1968)

Travels with my Aunt (1972)

California Suite (1978)

A Private Function (1984)

Gosford Park (2001)

Harry Potter DVD Box Set (1 -7)

Downton Abbey (Series 1 - 4)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)