Film Review: The Lady in the Van

In association with the Grosvenor


‘A mostly true story’ begins The Lady in the Van, Alan Bennett’s film adaptation of his play of the same name. It follows Miss Sheperd, an eccentric, cantankerous woman who lived in a van parked on Bennett’s driveway for 15 years.

Maggie Smith plays the title character and is as excellent as Maggie Smith always is; comic, heart-breaking, sly, and generally doing a lot of very good acting. Opposite her, Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett nails both his often-imitated northern monotone and tight-lipped, quiet perceptiveness. Bafta nominations are pretty much guaranteed for both.

These performances are held together by Bennett’s typically wry, pin sharp and very funny script. This film hasn’t been marketed as out-and-out comedy – and it isn’t, really – but there was more laughter in the cinema than at any other film I’ve seen this year. Refreshingly lacking in sentimentality; Miss Sheperd is rude, bigoted, bullying and unkind; Bennett short-tempered and never willing to admit to kindness. This is an honest portrait of two flawed and unusual people in an equally unusual situation, and when the earnest moments come in the third act they feel more genuine for it.

Director Nicholas Hytner, Bennett’s long-time collaborator at the National Theatre, translates the story from stage to screen with some delicate cinematic flourishes, while retaining the intimacy and immediacy of the theatre. Towards the end the film becomes a little too meta, a little too navel-gazing in acknowledging its status as art imitating life, but for the most part it’s a gorgeous, quiet gem of a film, with which Bennett reinforces his status as one of Britain’s best living scriptwriters and as a great chronicler of realities small wonders.

[Clare Patterson – @clurrpatterson]

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