Maggie Smith couldn't be more perfect for the title role in this film if it were written for her. But the most astounding thing about this story is that it's true, an event from playwright-screenwriter Alan Bennett's own life. The film cleverly plays with the idea of a writer telling his own story. And it also gives Smith an unforgettable role in a movie that's both entertaining and sharply pointed.
It happened in 1970 Camden, as neighbours worried about a homeless woman parking her van in front of their houses. She turns out to be Mary Shepard (Smith), and resident Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) offers to let her park her van in his driveway for a few months. She stayed there for 15 years, during which Alan refuses to pry into Mary's personal life and she turns a blind eye to the steady flow of young gentleman callers at his door. Even so, over the years Alan learns some details about Mary's past as a musician, ambulance driver and nun, and that she became homeless because she was on the run from the police.
Bennett takes a cheeky approach to the script, writing two versions of himself: one who lives his life and one who writes about it. The interaction between the two is cleverly played by Jennings and directed with offhanded hilarity by Hytner, who shot the movie in the actual street and house where the events took place. Jennings also adds some emotional interest in Alan's relationship with his mother (Gwen Taylor), who ironically has to move into a nursing home. Opposite him, Smith is as magnetic as ever, reeling off each pithy one-liner with impeccable timing. The role may not seem like much of a stretch, but she delivers it with a prickly mix of attitude and humour, plus a strong undercurrent of pathos.
Continue reading: The Lady In The Van Review
'The Lady In The Van' director Nicholas Hytner, producer Kevin Loader and writer Alan Bennett - on whose life the film is based - ponder over the excellence of leading lady Maggie Smith in the role of an educated yet poverty stricken old woman named Miss. Shepherd.
Continue: The Lady In The Van - Featurette
Once upon a time, a normal man lived in a normal house on a normal street. Then, something extraordinary happened. An educated woman - a scholar of both music and art - who lives in a van, takes up residence on the road. Miss Shepard (Maggie Smith) is insistent on staying in her van on the street, and the man (Alan Bennett), invites her to park her mobile home in his driveway in order to relieve his neighbours of the site. They agree she will stay for three weeks; she ends up staying for fifteen years.
Continue: Lady In The Van Trailer
Alan Bennett has been speaking with the National Theatre's Nicholas Hytner to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Alan Bennett has explained how he guarded his sexuality for much of his career to avoid being pigeonholed as a gay playwright. Bennett, one of Britain's most respected writers, is best known for The History Boys and The Madness of George III. He was in conversation with BBC Four to mark his 80th birthday.
Alan Bennett Turns 80 on Friday
"My objection about people knowing more about one's private life was that I didn't want to be put in a pigeonhole," he told National Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner.
Continue reading: Alan Bennett Didn't Want Gay Label, "I Wanted To Be My Own Man"
Maggie Smith couldn't be more perfect for the title role in this film if it...
'The Lady In The Van' director Nicholas Hytner, producer Kevin Loader and writer Alan Bennett...
Once upon a time, a normal man lived in a normal house on a normal...