A Lady in the Van, a Girl on the Train, a Ja­co­bite saga and a court­room drama.

North & South - - Columns - JOANNA WANE

Bi­og­ra­phy/ drama ( M)

In the 1970s, Miss Mary Shep­herd drove her Bedford van into Lon­don play­wright Alan Ben­nett’s life – and into his drive­way – ac­com­pa­nied by an “odor­if­er­ous con­certo” of urine and Yard­ley’s laven­der. And there she re­mained, a haughty and des­ti­tute dowa­ger, un­til her death 15 years later. Based on a mem­oir that be­came a play, the film is billed as “mostly true”. By Ben­nett’s own ac­count, Shep­herd was far viler than this en­gag­ing, ec­cen­tric por­trayal by Dame Mag­gie Smith, who brings a glo­ri­ously tri­umphant qual­ity to the role. But in the mo­ments when her fa­cade crum­bles, the lone­li­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity ex­posed be­neath her bravado is haunt­ing.

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