British actress Maggie Smith has spent most of this millennium not taking any nonsense.
First she played the role of Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, a character whose tart intelligence disguised her underlying humanity; then there was the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey, a character whose tart snobbishness disguised her underlying humanity.
And both of these characters are descendants, in a way, of Smith’s most famous film role, the one that won her the first of her two Oscars – the more ambiguously curt and charismatic Miss Jean Brodie, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Yet as Michael Coveney’s scrupulous, impassioned new biography of the actress convincingly argues, Smith, now 81, has always been possessed of more expansive and nuanced capacities than that handful of roles demonstrates. Indeed, the book contends, she is one of our era’s very greatest actresses. USA Today