The Lady in the Van
Time Out says
Maggie Smith is excellent in this cosy comic tale carved from writer Alan Bennett's own life
Imagine Maggie Smith’s cantankerous dowager in ‘Downton Abbey’ as a bag lady – she's still lording it over everyone, but now she's dressed in a filthy too-big men’s coat with brown sticky tape patching up the rips and unsightly brown smears down the back.
Meet Miss Shepherd, an elderly homeless woman who lived in a knackered campervan in playwright Alan Bennett’s front garden in north London for 15 years. Smith played Miss Shepherd in Bennett’s hit 1989 play and takes on the role again in this hugely entertaining, big-hearted and funny film adaptation directed by his long-standing collaborator Nicholas Hytner ('The History Boys'); it’s the movie equivalent of cosying with a warm buttery crumpet in front of a fire on a winter’s day.
The film was shot in the actual house on the street, Gloucester Crescent, in London's Camden Town where the real events took place. Alex Jennings plays Bennett, who buys his house in the late 1960s. His neighbours are writers and intellectuals – guilty liberals who put up with Miss Shepherd’s van parked outside their book-lined homes to prove how tolerant they are. When the local authorities threaten to move her on, Bennett offers Miss S the use of his front garden for a couple of weeks. She never leaves. His mum, visiting from Yorkshire, wonders what she does for a toilet. The answer involves ‘Stout carrier bags’, Bennett tells her (not stout enough we soon find out).
The film offers glimpses of Bennett’s private life – his crush on a cocky young actor starring in one of his plays and conversations with himself bemoaning his dullness, writing about his mum and a barmy old lady while others are off having proper adventures. Miss Shepherd is gloriously rude. Any whiff of charity ruffles her ego, so when a neighbour knocks on her window with a creme brulee, she accepts it with haughty contempt. Her delusions of grandeur are hilarious (she believes she’s receiving direct messages from the Virgin Mary). A wonderful Maggie Smith plays all this dead straight, poker-faced for maximum laughs. It’s a peppery, unsentimental performance. She’s hysterically funny, till she’s not – flooring you as the regret and tragedy behind Miss Shepherd’s vagabond life is revealed.
Cast and crew
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Average User Rating
3.2 / 5
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I have now seen this film twice. First time at cinema and second time at home in my living room eating Christmas snacks!
Maggie Smith is phenomenal as Mary Shepherd, the characteristics and mannerisms are outstanding and plays the role perfectly.
Alex Jennings plays Alan Bennett and his subconscious. Between them both they really keep the mystery and the story going and you really cannot vision the outcome until later in the film.
If you enjoy a film that gets you thinking and also a film based on real events, I would thoroughly recommend this one
Overlong, stagey comedic drama. The performances of Alex Jennings and Maggie Smith are solid rather than spectacular. Two and a half stars.
Read the book, seen the play. I think I would have enjoyed the film more if I hadn't.
The material has now been stretched & reworked once too often.
Overwritten to include weak cameos from a large number of National Theatre regulars.
The film gives us two Alan Bennett's, and just in case you think everything he writes is all about himself, someone in the film says exactly that.
Was the ending a feeble homage to Monty Python ?
Much better than l thought it would be,and a huge improvement on the weak storyline and script of the History Boys..Smith is a tour de force..However without the fictionalised sections there really would not be much of a story.In truth the women was even more unpleasant and less communicative than in the film..She refused to speak to Bennett for years
a superb film. Maggie Smith is excellent as is Alex Jenning playing Allan Bennett. Touching and comical. I love watching the streets of Camden as they would have been in the seventies