The Oscar season has begun after Dame Maggie Smith was named the “strongest bet” to make it a hat-trick of wins, for her role in the big-screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s The Lady In The Van.
A buzz is building around the veteran actress’s performance as a crotchety bag lady who parks her vehicle in an unsuspecting London man’s drive and ends up living there for 15 years.
Variety, Hollywood Reporter and the New York Post have tipped the 80 year-old as a Best Actress candidate for the film, inspired by Bennett’s own experience and directed by Nicholas Hytner, which opens in the UK this week.
Variety described the adaptation as “principally a showcase” for the Downton Abbey star, who gives “one of the best film performances from an actress who’s universally admired.”
Smith, who won the best actress statuette in 1969 for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and a supporting actress award in 1979 for California Suite, was the “strongest bet” for a nomination, the trade bible said.
Hollywood Reporter said Dame Maggie had established herself as a likely nominee after The Lady In The Van screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September. The New York Post said the performance should land the actress her seventh Academy nomination.
Dame Maggie’s rivals include Charlotte Rampling, 69, for her role in marital drama 45 Years, Lily Tomlin, 76, who took her first leading role in 27 years with Grandma and Cate Blanchett, star of Truth, which tells the story of a 2004 newsroom scandal at the CBS network.
Variety cites several factors which could work in Dame Maggie’s favour. Bafta voters are likely to reward The Lady In The Van at next year’s London ceremony which precedes the Oscars.
Dame Maggie is already well-liked and the final series of Downton Abbey will air in the US in January, giving Academy members another reminder of her screen prowess.
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But the actress must glad-hand through considerable pain to ensure recognition. “She also hasn’t been able to hit the campaign trail due to recent hip surgery, but it’s hoped she will circle around soon. That would certainly boost the film’s profile for voters amid the year-end glut,” Variety said.
Although some reviewers have called The Lady In The Van slight and parochial, Variety was impressed by the lead performance, calling Dame Maggie “our veritable Garbo of dingbat hauteur,” and her character, Margaret Shepherd “one of the most tailor-made leading roles of her late career.”
Dame Maggie, the only person to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar loser, in the 1978 Neil Simon satire California Suite, celebrates her 81st birthday next month and would replace Jessica Tandy as the oldest Best Actress winner.
Oldest Oscar winners
Christopher Plummer, 82 – Best Supporting Actor for The Beginners, 2012
Jessica Tandy, 80 – Best Actress for Driving Miss Daisy, 1989
George Burns, 80 – Best Supporting Actor The Sunshine Boys, 1975
Melvyn Douglas, 79 – Best Supporting Actor for Being There, 1979
Emanuelle Riva, 85 – Best Supporting Actress for Amour, 2012
Robert Duvall, 84 – Best Actor for The Judge, 2015
Oldest Best Actor
Henry Fonda, 76 - On Golden Pond, 1981
Oldest Best Director
Clint Eastwood, 74 – Million Dollar Baby, 2004
Oldest Honorary Oscar
Robert F. Boyle, art director, 98 when he won in 2007
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