The Lady in the Van

 photo lady_in_the_van_ver3_zpsthjsprwh.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgMiss Mary Shepherd is an aging homeless woman struggling with physical decline. Her home is a broken down van which she parks in the neighborhood of Camden, in London.  BUT Mary isn’t some lovable scamp.  No, far from it. She’s a cantankerous old shrew to be quite honest. Eccentric and ill tempered, she isn’t the first person to whom you’d want to give a warm hug.

The Lady in the Van has a sweet quality that will delight some and irk others. It’s self consciously precious and finds humor in the little mundanities of life. The tale is based on English playwright Alan Bennett’s own reminiscence of an elderly woman who lived out of her car in his London driveway for 15 years. Bennet is well acquainted with adapting his plays for the screen (The Madness of King George, The History Boys). Director Nicholas Hytner has experience with handling the film versions. Maggie Smith has portrayed this part twice: the original stage production in 1999 and later a radio program on the BBC in 2009. Alex Jennings is the other component as the exasperated author that effectively matches Smith in their verbal exchanges. It’s clear everyone is very at ease with the material.

Now if the casting doesn’t already pique your interest, as it did me, then perhaps your enjoyment of The Lady in the Van will be a bit more of an uphill battle. Maggie Smith, that grande dame of the British acting world, has made a career of late playing cold, judgmental types. Her irascible demeanor somewhat softened by the biting quips she can deliver with her uniquely styled sardonic wit. Although she’s rude, the audience is still willing to embrace her spunky temperament. It’s not an easy task but Maggie Smith has perfected the trait. She embodies the role with flamboyant flair making full use of her considerable acting talents.

The Lady in the Van is first and foremost a star vehicle (no pun intended) built around Maggie Smith’s performance. She puts on the part like a comfortable old sweater. That describes this trifling slice of life to a T. It’s cozy. The joy is watching thespians Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings in one amusing tête–à–tête after another. Their personalities clash and mesh at various points – she a grouchy curmudgeon, he a finicky chap that talks to himself. The discovery is what we learn about these two characters as the years pass. The drama is slight, charming and oh-so-British.


19 Responses to “The Lady in the Van”

  1. Nice review Mark. This one has me intrigued. Hoping to check it out soon.


    • Maggie Smith’s nominations at the Golden Globes and at BAFTA had me curious. She’s good, although I’d argue she could do this part in her sleep. It doesn’t tax her considerable talents.


  2. Ok, you’ve built a strong case for me to go and try this one out. I almost went last week but couldn’t quite muster the enthusiasm. But I really like what I hear . . . um, here. A small, cozy little film sounds really good right now.


  3. Nancy Hobin Says:

    I have enjoyed Maggie Smith in all of the Downton Abby series.
    I didn’t like her so well in her previous movies but found as a much older actress she really excels in the curmudgeon roll. Your review makes me very anxious to see this movie. Great review!


  4. This does indeed sound like a star vehicle for Maggie Smith. It sounds perfect! I can’t wait to see it. 🙂


  5. Well said.. I enjoyed the film and yes, is a perfect distraction really for a couple of hours of the day.. 😀


  6. Very excited to see this- I love Maggie SMith!


  7. This was a cute movie. I love Maggie Smiths’ sass. Wasn’t great. Just cute. 3 stars


  8. I probably fall into the camp that would be delighted by this film’s sweet quality. Didn’t know the backstory that it’s based on a play and it’s a part that Smith has portrayed twice before. Makes sense that she puts it on like an old sweater. I can also see how she would do well with the role based on her acting style. I’m sure I’d enjoy The Lady in the Van.


    • For an interesting contrast, watch Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), after you see this. She’s phenomenal in that (and quite different).


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