2015-The Lady in The Van

BBC Films released this fabulous movie on 13th Nov 2015 .

Alan Bennett’s story is based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (played by a magnificent Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins who “temporarily” parked her van in Bennett’s London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favor becomes a relationship that will change both their lives. Filmed on the street and in the house where Bennett and Miss Shepherd lived all those years, acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with iconic writer Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys) to bring this rare and touching portrait to the screen.

Review  By James Southall on Wednesday January 6, 2016

Alan Bennett’s memoir The Lady in the Van concerns an old woman who asked to park outside his house temporarily and ended up staying for 15 years.  He adapted it for the stage in 1999 where Nicholas Hytner directed Maggie Smith and has now written the screenplay for this movie adaptation, with the same director and star (and Alex Jennings playing Bennett himself).  In his youth George Fenton was actually a budding actor and knew Bennett – and in a nice little coincidence, he met the lady in the van herself while he was helping Bennett redecorate his house.  Decades later, he’s written the score for the film (as he has for all of Hytner’s previous ones).

It’s an unsurprisingly light-hearted affair, witty and elegant and completely charming, qualities all thoroughly encapsulated within the delightful main theme which opens the album, “Miss Shepherd’s Waltz”, a musical embodiment of the funny character at the centre of the story.  It’s heard several times, the best and fullest arrangement coming right at the end in “The Ascension”.  The second cue “Moving In” introduces a classical tinge with its lovely piano solos (the lady having been a classically trained pianist in her younger days); and the album features music by Chopin and Schubert in addition to Fenton’s score.

If you could imagine the musical embodiment of a dialogue between Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith then it’s pretty much this score.  The comic flair is gently done for the most part with occasional exaggerated gestures through florid orchestral touches; and it’s all absolutely, steadfastly English.  There are some touching moments too – consecutive tracks “In Care” and “The Neighbours” are just so lovely.  There are darker moments – “Collision and Confession” in particular is very sad, with its hints of mental fragility; later “Curtains Down” is ominous and carries a touch of resignation about it.  There’s a brief cue late on, “Freewheeling”, which momentarily takes the score back towards Fenton’s marvellous Valiantfrom a few years back (sadly it only lasts a few bars).  The score’s finest moment comes towards the end in “A Sepulchre”, a beautiful piece for piano which plays as a touching tribute.  The Lady in the Van really is a delightful little score which ought to bring a smile to anyone’s face – scoring comedy well, writing interesting music for it, is really hard and Fenton has pulled it off with aplomb here.


Two Academy Awards (out of six nominations), five BAFTAs, three Emmys, three Golden Globes, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Tony. It’s exhausting just to list the accolades that Dame Maggie Smith has accumulated over her decades on screen and stage: Imagine how tiring it must have been to earn them all.

Yet at 82, Smith seems, if anything, more lively and ubiquitous than ever before. She’s appeared in 20 films over the past 15 years, notably as Minerva McGonagall, the benevolent headmistress of Harry Potter’s beloved Gryffindor House. And over the past five years she’s also won two Emmys (and been nominated for two more) for her portrait of Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey. It’s a schedule that might break a performer half her age.

For her latest feat, Smith rescues Nicholas Hytner’s filmThe Lady in the Van from the confectionery uplift that otherwise might have swallowed it. Smith plays Mary Shepherd—or, more accurately, someone who has chosen to go by the name “Mary Shepherd”—a real-life homeless woman who, for 15 years, parked her van in the driveway of the real-life playwright Alan Bennett (played here by Alex Jennings). It’s a role Smith has played twice before: in Bennett’s 1999 stage play of the same name (also directed by Hytner) and in a 2009 BBC radio production.

The story begins when Bennett moves into the bourgeois-boho London neighborhood of Camden Town in the early 1970s. (A typical exchange takes place with a neighbor played by Roger Allam: Bennett: “I’ve got a play on in the West End”; neighbor: “Of course you do.”) Shepherd is already a fixture on the block, moving her dilapidated van from curb to curb as needed. None of the resident families are particularly happy to have her park in front of their homes; but all feel ideologically bound not to complain. “That’s Camden,” one explains. “People wash up here.” Or as Bennett himself puts it, “They tolerate Ms. Shepherd, their consciences absolved by her presence.”


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