Based on a ‘mostly’ true story, The Lady in The Van tells of the relationship between the tremendously talented writer, Alan Bennett, and a homeless pensioner, Miss Sheppard, who used his driveway as a residence for fifteen-years.
Adapted from Bennett’s original book and subsequent play, the big-screen treatment breathes new life into this hilarious and touching story. In fact, it’s one of the rare occasions where the film adds to the source material, in that it puts visuals to Bennett’s occasional flights of fancy.
Central to the plot is the inner-dialogue between Alan Bennett the writer, and Alan Bennett the real person. The constant conversation between the two, provides insight into which events are true and which have been fabricated for dramatic purposes; as well as offering us a glimpse into Bennett’s conflicting thoughts and feelings.
With Alex Jennings essentially playing two versions of the same character, the film allows these different personalities to interact in a clever and convincing way, that wouldn’t be quite as effective in any other format.
The script by Alan Bennett is as rich as you would expect. Its consistently laugh out loud funny and human, but it has a much darker tone to it too. We get to hear his deepest, most personal thoughts about whether his toleration for Miss Sheppard is out of a need to ‘care’, or whether it is solely for writing material; and, the film explores his guilt surrounding his mother, who is declining in health.
More importantly, the script packs a real emotional punch, and not in an overly dramatic way either. I’d be shocked if, amongst your tears of laughter, there weren’t a few tears of sadness too.
Maggie Smith is as flawless as ever in the role of the titular lady. Having performed the role previously on stage and radio, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Here, Smith proves, once again, that she really is one of the greatest actresses of our time; a national treasure who brings charisma and bite to every one of her characters.
The aforementioned Alex Jennings deserves a lot of credit too though, for his important part in the film’s success. Not only is totally convincing as Alan Bennett in the way he looks and speaks, but he plays the two sides to that character, wonderfully.
I can think of few films in 2015 that are quite as sharp, witty and as poignant as The Lady in The Van. On that basis alone, forgetting the superb performances, it’s worth seeking out as soon as possible.
Image credit to http://www.finalreel.co.uk