Director: Nicholas Hytner
The Lady in the Van is based off of the book of the same name which was released in 1989, by the English author and playwright, Alan Bennett. Like many of Bennett’s works, The Lady in the Van is centred on his own life, and his attempts to find humour in the mundane. Usually his works focus upon his relationship with his mother, however in this instance, it is his relationship with Miss Shepherd (played by the ever brilliant Maggie Smith): a difficult, hilarious, and at times belligerent, old lady living in her van.
Miss Shepherd’s arrival in Camden Town is met with a mixture of amusement and displeasure, with the locals not wanting her to sully the reputable image of the upmarket suburb of London. Despite this, she quickly cements herself as ‘here to stay’ after successfully bullying her way in by parking her van on Bennett’s drive (as Bennett put it “until you get yourself sorted out”)—and she proceeds to stay for the next 15 years.
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Bennett’s character (played by Alex Jennings) is split into two narratives (there are two Bennetts), and they argue with each other over whether they should live as the “self who does the living” or the “self that does the writing.” It all seems slightly contrived, and things are even stranger in the final scene in which the real Alan Bennett makes an appearance.
In any case, it is Maggie Smith’s performance, as is the case in many of her films, that steals the show. She plays the role exceptionally well, injecting humour and delivering lines in a way only she can. Smith demands the audience’s attention, forcing us to like her character with her brash and often outrageous behavior—described by Bennett as “bigoted, rank, and rude.” Yet, she also shows subtle hints of the frailty and plight of an elderly homeless lady living in her van on someone’s driveway for 15 years.