Some performers can read from a phone book and still receive accolades. Such are their thespian abilities, how they elevate the written word can enhance even the stodgiest of productions. ‘The Lady in the Van’ certainly isn’t terrible by any means but it benefits from Maggie Smith’s esteemed presence. Her role is one she has done on stage and radio and successfully transplants to film. Watching her act is very easy as once again she inhabits a persona differing from her usual screen image.
When her van is hit by a motorcyclist, elderly homeless eccentric Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith) decides to park it in the drive-way of budding playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). Befriending this strange woman, Alan allows her to stay – an arrangement lasting 15 years. As the years pass he learns more about her past with both finding inspiration from each other in facing the slings and arrows life offers.
Based on true events, ‘The Lady in the Van’ is a moving comedy drama. Its best aspect is the humour which rises naturally from situations. None of it is forced as Alan and Mary share a strange relationship. Without realising it, they rely on each other for inspiration in tackling life. For Alan, Mary’s existence provides him with an odd muse in which to spur his creativity. Mary relies on Alan for companionship and also to face past demons.
Under Nicholas Hytner’s steady direction, ‘The Lady in the Van’ becomes engrossing viewing. Whilst some aspects of the screenplay don’t quite gel in terms of the character’s backgrounds, the strong performances aids immeasurably in its viewing enjoyment. Smith and Jennings delve deep into their roles successfully showing their character’s strong connection. Co-stars and stark cinematography enhance the quirky world in which the film conveys with gritty authenticity highlighting the reality of the character’s plight.
You can’t go wrong with a Maggie Smith performance with ‘The Lady in the Van’ adding another feather to her cap. A warm-hearted movie without being saccharine sweet, it’s worth seeing for her fans and lovers of well-made British films.
Movie Review Rating out of 10: 7
Movie Review by Patrick Moore
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