THE LADY IN THE VAN
Director: Nicholas Hytner ( The History Boys) Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent, Frances de la Tour Verdict: Wouldn’t have it any other stay AAAH, yes, the guests who overstay their welcome. We have all known some in our time, I’m sure. Perhaps the more honest among us would admit to being one themselves.
The delightful and engrossing comedy- drama The Lady in the Van tells the true story of the ultimate guest who didn’t know how, or when, to say goodbye.
Mary Shepherd ( played by Maggie Smith) pulled into the suburban London driveway of acclaimed British playwright and author Alan Bennett in 1974. Fifteen years later, she was still there.
Mary rarely ventured inside Bennett’s home. She preferred the creature comforts of her campervan, the cluttered contents of which resembled the inside of a dustbin. As for Bennett ( Alex Jennings) – a shy, retiring and private man of middling age – the arrangement with the elderly squatter right outside his front window never became official. But somehow, it became permanent.
Miss Shepherd, as she preferred to be known, was already a fixture around Camden Town when she first made Bennett’s acquaintance. He and other neighbours always kept an eye out for Mary as she and her bright yellow van moved residence from one curbside location to another.
However, when a change to local council by- laws threatened to force Mary out of the area, Bennett granted her haven in his front yard until she Lady in the Van.
Bennett’s instincts for a great story can sense there is a past to Mary that defies the stereotype of the nearhomeless bag lady so many believe her to be. As indicated by the length of her stay, it takes a long time – and some trying times – for Bennett to piece together just a few small areas of the mysterious jigsaw that is Mary’s life history.
While there have been many plaudits for Smith’s broadly appealing performance – a universe away from her eye- bulging antics in TV’s Downton Abbey – her relatively unknown co- star Jennings plays just as pivotal a role in the film’s success.