A season of films dedicated to one woman? Cousin Violet would doubtless find the whole scenario terribly vulgar, but given that Ilford-born Maggie Smith could sleepwalk her way through Downton Abbey and still be the best thing in it, who gives a tinker's stuff what the Dowager Countess thinks? The BFI's new season shows off over 50 years of one of Britain's finest acting talents over December and January.
Highlights include the filmed version of the National Theatre's acclaimed 1965 production of Othello with Smith as Desdemona (yes, Laurence Olivier is blacked up, but it was the 60s, things were different then; if nothing else, it demonstrates how far we've come). Her role in Travels With my Aunt (1972) earned Smith an Oscar nomination, and she won one of the golden chaps for her portrayal of an actress preparing for the Academy Awards in California Suite (1978). Back home, Alan Bennett's A Private Function provides laughs (and Michael Palin), while his Talking Heads monologue Bed Among the Lentils allows Smith to use her ocean-sized eyes to full effect.
A quartet of films pairs Smith with this country's other grande dame, Judi Dench: the Merchant Ivory award-hoovering A Room with a View, Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussolini, recent (and fairly so-so) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the almost unbearably poignant Ladies in Lavender.
For the kids, there are a couple of January screenings of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Smith's turn as Professor McGonagall is self-described as "Miss Jean Brodie in a wizard's hat", which does provoke the question: where is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in this line-up? 17, 20 and 27 December, thankfully. The season wouldn't have been complete without it.
The Maggie Smith season takes place at the BFI, South Bank, between 2 December-31 January. Tickets £11/£8.50. January screenings go on sale 9 December.