Lady in the Van – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review
The Lady in the Van tells the true story of English writer Alan Bennett’s unusual relationship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman who would park her van in front of houses, moving from street to street after her welcome had been worn out. One day in the 1970s, Bennett took pity on her and agreed to allow Miss Shepherd to temporarily to park her van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years.
Miss Shepherd as we learn thought she was on the run for a hit-and-run accident she was involved with in the 1960s, so she kept no fixed address, made no friends, and tried to hide as best she could in plain sight, in a bright yellow Bedford van…. Miss Shepherd was a fairly unlikable person and it is a wonder that anyone would allow this unsanitary old woman to live in their driveway. The only thing that really made her likeable in this story was Maggie Smith and her excellent performance. In the film, we’re shown Bennett as two people; as the author, and as the individual who deals with the lady in the van. Alex Jennings also gives a sharp performances as Bennett in this “split-screen” style, arguing with himself, debating how to deal with Miss Shepherd, and ultimately narrating the events to the audience. Through all this we learn that Bennett wasn’t entirely motivated by morality. He didn’t allow Miss Shepherd to live there because he was too timid to kick her out, or because she reminded him of his own ailing mother, or just out of British civility, but because he thought from the outset that he could use her and her story as material for one of his own stories. Obviously he did.
Alan Bennett wrote the film, and was one of the film’s lead characters. With The Lady in the Van he reunites with director Nicholas Hytner who he had worked previously with on The Madness of King George and The History Boys. I believe I heard that all the primary members of the History Boys cast had cameos in Lady in the Van. It was a good film, and as I mentioned, everyone involved did a good job, it just wasn’t exactly what I expected. I thought it would be a little funnier and a little quirkier, but instead it was a little more serious. One of the hardest things to do with a “real life story” is to balance the reality with the entertainment. I suppose this is one of those stories about the human spirit and kindness that is available from the unlikeliest of people. Real life isn’t always funny.
Bottom Line: I enjoyed The Madness of King George, I really should get around to The History Boys…