“Downton Abbey” Brings News of Maggie Smith’s and Imelda Staunton’s Talent, Opportunity to Stay at Highclere Castle
Far from the halls of Hogwarts, Imelda Staunton and Dame Maggie Smith, known by Harry Potter fans as iconic characters Dolores Umbridge and Minerva McGonagall, are now achieving new movie magic in Downton Abbey.
Dame Maggie Smith has a long history with the Downton Abbey franchise, playing the Dowager Countess of Grantham, a favorite among fans of the television series and a formidable character. Smith, say costars Allen Leech (Tom Branson) and Elizabeth McGovern (Coran Crawley), has been known to emulate Violet’s no-nonsense attitude, once using her costume cane as a measure of personal space for a crew member who often irritated her.
This affinity to Violet, coupled with Smith’s renowned acting skills, made her role a particularly enjoyable one to write, said scriptwriter Julian Fellowes.
[Dame Maggie Smith] played the Dowager very precisely. She also never alters the lines, which of course to a writer, as you can imagine, is absolutely bliss. She’s very funny, and she’s very moving. She’s both, and she’s very layered and very interesting to watch. Who could ask for better?
Fellowes wasn’t alone in singing Smith’s praises. Allen Leech reflected on his first memory of Smith, driving her in a 1910 Reno and feeling panicked by the responsibility of driving a car with “a national treasure in the backseat.” Similarly, Michael Fox (Andy Parker) said that nerves saw him almost punch Smith in the face while trying to put a cloak on her, later catching her fingers in a handbag.
Smith’s costars banded together in her honor, calling her “brilliant,” “wise,” “iconic,” “skilled,” and “witty.” Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley) said he was still “amazingly impressed” every time he saw Smith perform. The actors reflected on some of their favorite Violet one-liners, including “I never argue, I explain,” a line so popular that it has become a main player in Downton Abbey merchandise. Violet’s strength, it seems, can be seen just as clearly in the talent of the actress tasked with her portrayal.
In the new Downton Abbey film, firm and fiery Violet called for a worthy rival, and Smith’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix screen rival couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. Fellowes spoke about the choice to cast Imelda Staunton.
I wanted to have someone who stood up to Maggie’s character, Violet, and gave her as good as she got. Of course, Maggie is a great actress, and to make that work, you have to get another great actress. It was quite the tall order. But happily, Imelda agreed to do the picture, and I think she’s marvellous in it.
Staunton plays Maud Bagshaw, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary and estranged cousin of Lord Grantham. Though she is one of just a few new-to-series faces in the Downton Abbey film, she is well connected to the story, with her husband, Jim Carter, having played butler Mr. Carson since the first episode.
I’ve worked with other people in the show, and I’ve known all about the show for all those years. I’ve watched it and lived with Jim, who’s been going through it all.
Calling Smith “the best,” Staunton said that it was important, when working with such talented colleagues, to work hard and match their efforts. But while old screen rivalries have made a return, Staunton is firm in her belief that Maud is nothing like the much-loathed Umbridge.
Maud has empathy, and she has human feelings, and I think Dolores lacks both those things and couldn’t be more different.
Lady Maud Bagshaw, says Staunton, is a rich character with status and a secret, making her an “extremely satisfying” character to play in a film that Staunton says “truly rises to the occasion,” including all the wondrous detail Downton Abbey fans have come to expect.
Fans who want more of the English franchise can visit Highclere Castle, which dates back to 749 and has over 200 rooms. The spectacular building, where Downton Abbey was filmed, will open its doors on November 26 for just $150 for the first person to sign up on its Airbnb page, which goes live on October 1 at 7 a.m. ET.
Downton Abbey is currently showing at theaters globally.