The HBO Max Harry Potter reunion special, Return To Hogwarts, premiered on the streaming platform at midnight on January 1, 2022.
Potterheads rejoiced at the reunion of the film series’ biggest stars, starting with The Golden Trio – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson – and featuring actors all fans know and love.
The special also featured Tom Felton, who broke hearts as Draco Malfoy, and Ralph Fiennes, who embodies the antagonist Lord Voldemort to a T.
Other actors who made a comeback included: Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Gary Oldman, Bonnie Wright, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Alfred Enoch, Matthew Lewis, Mark Williams, Evanna Lynch, and more.
The reunion paid tribute to cast members who had passed away before the cast could reunite for their 20th anniversary.
Where Was Dame Maggie Smith?
Noticeably absent was acting Titan Dame Maggie Smith, who had appeared in all eight movies of the series as Gyriffindor head and Transfiguration tutor, Professor Minerva McGonagall.
Aside from brief archive footage, Smith made no appearance either in-person or virtually in the special.
Though she was not the only starring cast member who was not present, her absence was significant due to her essential role in the narrative.
Though neither she nor her representation released a statement explaining her absence, many fans are of the opinion that the 87-year-old was staying safe amidst the surge of Covid-19 cases across the United Kingdom.
Also not present was Michael Gambon (who took over the role of Dumbledore after the passing of Richard Harris) and Julie Walters (Molly Weasley).
Gambon’s absence has been linked with the news that the actor had begun to suffer considerable memory loss as he aged, making it challenging to memorize scripts.
Walters had retired from acting after a cancer diagnosis in 2020, deciding to sit out the reunion while in remission.
Being one of the eldest actors, it is not surprising that Dame Maggie Smith had opted to retain her health rather than stress herself out by traveling during a turbulent pandemic.
The Rise of Dame Maggie Smith
At just seventeen years old, Smith began her prolific career as Viola in the Oxford Playhouse adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night while part of the Oxford University Dramatic society in 1952.
Having discovered her love for the stage, Smith acted in a series of infamous roles, including Cinderella (1952), Rokery Nooks (1953), Cakes and Ale (1953), and The Government (1954).
Smith made her Broadway debut in 1956, playing multiple roles in New Faces of ‘56 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City. She was involved in the show from June to December 1956.
After being recruited to work in the National Theatre by Laurence Olivier, Dame Maggie Smith rose to prominence in the West End and Broadway, receiving a multitude of awards and stellar reviews for her performance across the 1960s.
Smith was nominated for her first Olivier Award for her role in the 1987 production of Lettice and Lovage.
Penned by playwright Peter Shaffer, it seemed as though the stars had aligned for the stage actress when he revealed he had written the role with her in mind.
A review in The New York Times summarized the situation best:
“There is only one Maggie Smith, but audiences get at least three of her in Lettice and Lovage, the Peter Shaffer comedy that has brought this spellbinding actress back to Broadway after an indecently long absence and that has the shrewd sense to keep her glued to center stage.”
She reprised the role when it moved to Broadway in 1990 and won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
Smith was officially given the title of Dame that same year.
Foray Into Film
Smith made her film debut in an uncredited role, deciding to focus on her stage career after being skeptical about her skills as a film actress.
Her first screen credit was in the film Nowhere to Go, for which she received her first of eighteen British Academy Film Award nominations.
Dame Smith earned her first Academy Award nomination for her supporting role as Desdemona in Laurence Olivier’s adaptation of Othello, a role she had played on stage.
She starred alongside Olivier in the lead role (controversial due to his insistence on blackface), Derek Jacobi, and future Harry Potter costar Michael Gambon.
Smith cemented her place in Oscar history when she took home the award for Best Actress in 1969 for her role as the titular character in the film adaptation of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
The role had been originated on stage by Vanessa Redgrave, who won a Tony Award.
Smith has repeatedly been singled out for her performance, with critic Greg Ferrara writing that it was one of the best film performances in British film history.
He added that it was “as captivating today as it was upon its release and its two central performances by Maggie Smith and Pamela Franklin are both stirring and mesmerizing. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is the crème de la crème.”
The Dame won her second Academy Award in 1978, starring opposite Michael Caine in California Suite.
She is the only person in history who received an Oscar for playing a fictional nominee, beating out Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland, who were both nominated for the original and remade A Star Is Born.
Professor Minerva McGonagall
Smith joined the cast of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001, a role she played for eight years till the end of the film series.
Her role as the matronly figure to the boy wizard earned her rave reviews throughout the series, and fans were always eager to see more of the transfiguration professor.
The first Harry Potter film reunited her with Daniel Radcliffe; the two had starred together in the BBC adaptation of David Copperfield a year prior.
Aside from McGonagall, Smith received rave reviews for her standout performance in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2011.
A Dame Playing A Countess
From 2010 to 2015, Smith portrayed Dowager Countess of Grantham Violet Crawley in the period drama Downton Abbey.
The show became a highly successful cultural phenomenon, and Smith was quickly named a standout performer.
The role won her three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe, making her a powerhouse icon across all three artistic formats.