The Lady In The Van
Maggie Smith, Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Jim Broadbent
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…it strikes an agreeable balance between dry wit and pathos.
Maggie Smith ascends from the earth with as much fuss as she might do the groceries, her bulbous doe eyes stoic amid the throes of divine rapture. The clouds above part to reveal the heavenly seraphim; God with a giant finger beckons from the mist; and Maggie is subsumed into eternity. It may be aesthetically trite, and God was not afforded the best in computer graphics, but the moment is sardonically moving once it happens.
The Lady In The Van is based on Alan Bennett’s 1989 memoir and 1999 West End play of the same title, while he also self-penned the screenplay for this adaptation. Alex Jennings plays Bennett, a neurotic middle aged playwright prone to flights of narrative fancy and conversations had with a literal manifestation of his own conscience. When Miss Shepherd (Smith), an elderly vagrant living out of the back of a van, moves into his neighbourhood and, eventually, his driveway, their lives over the next two decades become increasingly inextricable, as titbits of Miss Shepherd’s extraordinary existence reveal themselves.
Smartly directed by Nicholas Hytner (who also helmed the big screen version of Bennett’s much loved play, The History Boys, along with the acclaimed The Madness Of King George), The Lady In The Van is a film with charm to spare, and it strikes an agreeable balance between dry wit and pathos. Smith is fantastic as the curmudgeonly vagrant, as is Jennings in his dual role playing two versions of Bennett, and their rapport is particularly endearing. Only the fact that it is aware of its own meta-cleverness means that the film is sometimes too precious for its own good, though its droll sense of sentiment makes up significantly for its so-slight smugness. A minor gem.