In an age when celebrities tend to be careful about what they say, famously outspoken actress Miriam Margolyes can be something of a surprise
Screen legend Miriam Margolyes is known for her witty asides and honest views on life. When we call her for a chat, she’s warm, wry and on form. ‘I occasionally say something in order to shock because it’s such fun!’ She reveals. ‘But mostly I say things because I believe in what I say and I want to say it.’
Miriam, 76, is starring in The Man who Invented Christmas, a film about how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. After reading English at Newnham College, Cambridge, this is a dream for ‘proud bookworm’ Miriam.
‘It’s very good to read,’ Miriam says. ‘It’s the sign of education and sophistication and I’m very sorry for people who don’t read. When I go into a house and there are no books, I’m afraid I make judgments.’
Though she’s starring in a film about A Christmas Carol,
‘I hope this film will make you want to read his books
– if you read Dickens you feel alive’
Miriam reveals that she’s stuck on deciding her favourite Dickens novel. ‘It’s between Little Dorrit, Bleak House and Great Expectations. Every time I come back to Dickens, I always think that he’s better than anybody else. I hope this film will make people want to read his books – if you read Dickens you feel alive. It makes you feel everything.’
Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens in the film, who Miriam reveals was ‘delicious’ to work with.
‘It was fun,’ she says. ‘He loves to laugh. And he loves to have a chat. He was very busy as he was playing the main role, but whenever we had any moments together at mealtimes, or while we were waiting around, he was generous, funny and open. He’s a delightful human being.’
Miriam might be a fan of Dan, but in her trademark outspoken way she’s doesn’t hide the fact that she wasn’t a fan of Downton, in which he played Matthew Crawley, referring to it as a ‘rather inferior soap opera’.
‘I hated it, It was pretending to be a social document and it wasn’t.
I mean all the people in it were my friends – but
I just thought it was so nakedly formula. It wasn’t genuine for me, so I didn’t watch it,’ Miriam says.
Though she’s starring in the most Christmassy of films, Christmas Day isn’t a big deal with Miriam. ‘Being Jewish, Christmas had no religious significance for me,’ she explains. ‘so I don’t celebrate it. I do disapprove of the amount of money that people spend on presents that they can’t afford, for people they don’t like and I’m not interested in the sentimental twaddle that people talk about. I think if they want to be nice to people then they should be nice to them all year round.’
However, while Miriam might take a dim view of the modern-day commercialisation of Christmas, she definitely does connect with its deeper spirit of goodwill. This year
‘Harry Potter wasn’t fun and it wasn’t a laugh – it was rather a serious business to get it right’
she’ll be helping out at Age UK Lambeth, who are holding a Christmas lunch for elderly people in her London borough.
‘Christmas is a time when people who are alone feel more alone than ever. Because of that, I’m going to be helping out at a party for the elderly. It means I spend some time with people who otherwise might be quite lonely.’
Miriam’s well known for her role as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films, but does she ever tire of talking about it?
‘It was a lovely job!’ She says. ‘I loved the people and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t a laugh – it was a rather serious business trying to get it right. It’s brought me a lot of money and happiness and I’m very grateful to it. Do I think that JK Rowling is as great as Dickens? No I don’t. But I think she’s a bloody good writer.’
Chatting to us on the phone from the house she shares in Tuscany with her partner, Heather, a retired Australian university professor, Miriam, once breaks conversation to let her partner know that she’s already fed the cat. Next year, Miriam reveals that she’s looking forward to celebrating their 50th anniversary.
‘I don’t like parties,’ she says. ‘But we’ll have one. Next year is our golden ‘something’ – though we didn’t get married. I was lucky to choose a perfect person. I think that sometimes life is sweeter shared. But only if you find the right person – there’s no good being with somebody who makes you unhappy.’
As Miriam wishes us a warm goodbye, we get the feeling that this is a lady who will never stop being excited about life – and wanting to learn more.
‘Never stop reading,’ she advises. ‘Books will delight you and inform all parts of your life.’
The Man who Invented Christmas is in cinemas from 1 December
Miriam plays Mrs Fisk and Dan Stevens (right) is Dickens in The Man who Invented Christmas
Professors Sprout (Miriam) and McGonagall
(Dame Maggie Smith)