Runtime: 104 mins
Genres Biography Comedy Drama
Actors Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Clare Hammond, George Fenton, BBC Concert Orchestra, Alex Jennings, Jamie Parker, Deborah Findlay, Roger Allam, Richard Griffiths, Pandora Colin, Nicholas Burns, Dominic Cooper, Giles Cooper, Tom Klenerman, Gwen Taylor, Frances de la Tour, Claire Foy, James Corden, George Taylor, David Calder, Eleanor Matsuura, Selina Cadell, Charlie Hancock, Dan Raza, Dermot Crowley, Clive Merrison, Samuel Barnett, Russell Tovey, Samuel Anderson
Before watching The Lady in the Van, be forewarned that you are about to be subjected both orally and, more regretfully, visually to the none too tidy lavatory habits of an elderly British vagrant who resides in her vehicle and rarely has an actual bathroom at her disposal. The upside is that said lady is brought to life by the magnificent Maggie Smith, who has previously inhabited this hygiene impaired creature described as odoriferous concerto, and primarily known as a Miss Shepherd to acclaim both on stage and radio. Fortunately, there’s more than a dash of Dowager Countess imperiousness lurking in this churlish ancient street urchin wrapped in dank glad rags whose faces stands apart from under sundry second hand caps and scarves, as a shriveled apple doll edition of E.T.
She fully expects, nay, demands to be catered to by strangers, and can’t be bothered with such subtleties as please, and thank you., Her reaction when a resident of the new rich North London enclave, where she has staked her claim, stops by to bestow Christmas gifts upon her? Shut the door, she bellows while reclining among the scattered detritus of her four wheeled abode. I am a busy woman. In the very least, you do have to admire both her unmitigated gall and survival instincts. Miss Shepherd, whose antics are mainly based on facts, has mastered the artwork of preying upon the liberal guilt in the artist laden borough of Camden.
The only one that dare call her on her woe-is-me manipulations is a market vendor. Chin up love – we have all got to go sometime., He then adds rather sarcastically as she passes by, Smells like you already have. But no body falls under her sway greater than Alan Bennett, the Oscar Academy Award nominated screenwriter of 1995 The Madness of King George., He once again collaborates with director Nicholas Hytner while changing his own play about how this titular interloper ended up surviving in his driveway for fifteen years in the 70s and 80s. He also is the origin of not one, but two characters, Bennett the scribe and Bennett the man, one managing the writing details, the other his life, who sarcastically goad each other as an old couple. As pictured by Alex Jennings, the bespectacled Bennett is a fuss spending budget cross between Truman Capote and Elton John. His peevish existence requires possibly a lot of time far from Smith, as her personality intriguing backstory leaks out in dribs and drabs, beginning with a gap scene where a fatal car accident compels her to go undercover. When she spies a travel guide about France during one among her brief jaunts into Bennett’s quarters and abruptly starts to talk French fluently, the author discovers there’s more on this miserable than he suspected.
As Bennett openly admits in his voiceovers, he and Miss Shepherd mutually benefitted from her existence in front of his home, despite the periodic run-in with bodily waste. He supplied her with a safe and legal haven while she acted as his muse, supplying endless humorous material with her rude relationships with the outside world. When a parishioner colleague follows her into the admission booth and recoils from the fragrance she’s left behind, the priest obligingly provides, There is an air freshener behind the Virgin., After observing the nightly trail of attractive young men who go through the van on the way to Bennett’s door, she tells him conspiratorially, I know what they are – they’re communists.
That is why they come out during the night., A homeless woman also acts as a stand-in for his own sweet mum, who ends up in a nursing home after her mental faculties begin to fade. There’s a deeper purpose on show as this odd couple go about their business that, in most cases, can help to keep the proceedings relatively free from inexpensive sentimentality and twee overload. In this season of giving, The Lady in the Van, offers an interesting take on the very act of charity and how our desire to do good often benefits us as much if not more than it does those in need.
While the film is no Spotlight, or Philomena, it does cast aspersions against the Catholic Church as its less than benevolent past dealings with Miss Shepherd are revealed. However, Bennett’s script overestimates how enthralling his doppelgä, ngers are compared to Smith’s note perfect portrayal. He also inserts an extremely annoying device in the shape of Jim Broadbent as ridiculous Javert like blackmailer who on a regular basis shakes down Miss Shepherd for money. The ending is botched by a sudden flight of divine fancy and also some needless meta business regarding his real self turning up on screen. But for anybody who adores Smith, which is just about everybody nowadays, they may have quite a gratifying ride with this crusty grand lady behind the wheel.