THE LADY IN THE VAN

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES -

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.

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