Movie Reviews

Published on February 5th, 2016 | by Neil Jordan

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The Lady In The Van

Greetings & Salutations Fellow Movie Fanatics!

In the last two decades America has seen an almost literal ‘invasion’ of British film and television programming. Like the British ‘music invasion’ some 60 years ago we just can’t seem to get enough of it. Today’s film for your consideration is the 2015 British dramatic comedy ‘The Lady In The Van’. Based upon the 1999 West End play of the same name written by Alan Bennett and starring famed British actress Maggie Smith, who also portrayed the lead in the original stage production at Queens Theater in London and again in a 2009 BBC 4 radio adaption, ‘The Lady In The Van’ follows the true story of Maggie Shepherd. An elderly lady who lived in a rundown van in Bennett’s driveway for 15 years.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner, who also directed the stage play, the film stars legendary British actress Maggie Smith as Maggie Shepherd, Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett, Jim Broadbent as Underwood, Deborah Findlay as Pauline, Roger Allam as Rufus, Gwen Taylor as Mam, Cecillia Noble as Miss Brisco, Nicholas Burns as Giles Perry, Pandora Colin as Mrs Perry, and Frances de la Tour As Ursula Vaughan Williams.

‘The Lady In The Van’ follows the true story of playwright Alan Bennett’s strained and tested relationship with Miss Maggie Shepherd. An eccentric and frightened homeless woman whom he befriended in the 1970s shortly after he moved into London’s Camden neighborhood. Originally, Bennett invites Shepherd to park her aging Bedford van in his driveway so she can list it as an address in order to collect benefits and eventually move on. Instead, Shepherd ends up living in the van in Bennett’s driveway for 15 years. Just before her death in 1989, Alan learns that Maggie Shepherd is actually Margaret Fairchild. A gifted piano player who was a pupil of pianist Alfred Cortot and had a fondness for Chopin. So much so that when she tried to become a nun, she was kicked out of her religious order twice for wanting to play music. Bennett also learns that the reason Shepherd was homeless was that she was on the run for leaving the scene of a crime she didn’t commit after escaping an institution where she’d been committed by her own brother.

I found this movie to be a prime example of the concept ‘Everyone Has A Story To Tell’. Whether the person wants to tell the story or not is a whole other idea entirely. The strange friendship between Bennett and Shepherd is certainly an unusual one to be sure. While Bennett’s neighbors would be happy to see they as they describe ‘the crazy old lady leave the neighborhood, Bennett seems to follow his writer’s instincts and also his humanity. Maggie Smith’s and Alex Jennings’s performances as the oddly paired friends go far in helping to comprehend what went on between the two. Shepherd and Bennett both excelled as artists in their own way. One as a writer one as a musician. Both kinds of artists tell stories thorough their respective crafts. In this case though, the writer (Bennett) had the ‘responsibility’ of telling Shepherd’s story after debating with himself more than once whether he had the right to do so and whether it was moral or not. On top of that, it took over a decade to find the answers Bennett was looking for. In the end, it seems Bennett did what writers do. They use what’s around them in their lives to write about. And perhaps, by doing so, he helped give Shepherd some sort of closure and perhaps peace as well just before her death.

I’m going to give this film 4 out of 5 stars. The movie clocks in at 104 minutes so it is a long movie but honestly, how can you say ‘no’ to a movie with Maggie Smith?  Honestly, explain that one to me. She definitely ‘carries the film’ with her performance as Miss Mary Shepherd but the combination of her performance and that of Alex Jennings as the writer Alan Bennett that really make the film. I think another one of the reasons this film was good was because you had so many of the people that were involved in the original play that worked on the film itself. I personally find some British films, comedies in particular, to be a bit quirky sometimes. As funny as British humor is its sometimes difficult to grasp at first and there’s a bit of that in this film. Don’t let that discourage you though. If you can find an awesome art house movie theater, I’d certainly recommend going to catch it there. If you can’t, watch it online.

This is your friendly neighborhood freelance photographer and movie fanatic ‘The CameraMan’ and on behalf of my fellows at Skewed & Reviewed I’d like to say ‘Thanks For Reading’ and we’ll see you at the movies.


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