We already know that Dame Maggie Smith is not retiring from acting. Even at age 86, Smith is making a new film over the next couple of months in Ireland, co-starring Laura Linney. So we’ll still be seeing the beloved, curmudgeonly Oscar winner for some to come.
But when “Downton Abbey: A New Era” debuts in the UK on Friday, Smith will likely be making her exit from the TV series and movies that have made her an overnight sensation late in life.
At the end of the first “Downton Abbey” movie, Smith’s Violet Grantham, the Dowager Countess, told her granddaughter Mary that she had cancer. But she did not die on screen, and she is featured prominently in the plot of the second movie.
But the second movie opens this Friday in the UK and then there’s a three week wait til the US opening. And reviews are already reporting on the death of a major character and the movie ending with a funeral. Without saying it, they’re all saying it. The Dowager Countess is on her way out.
Is it possible to do more of these movies with Smith? That’s unclear. Her caustic, eccentric, old world Countess has provided endless humour and much profundity since the series began in 2010. Her lines are famous, particularly “What is a week-end?” when Violet is presented with this 20th century development.
As Smith has pointed out, “Downton Abbey” begins in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic. Violet was probably 80 then. Now it’s 1928, which would mean the fictional matriarch is 96 — ten years’ Smith elder. Even with clean living she’d be a lot more decrepit at this point. So fans should prepare themselves for the end.