#REVIEW: “THE LADY IN THE VAN”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Prior to its world premiere at TIFF last year, Director Nicholas Hytner’s Film The Lady in the Van had been a Book, a Play, and even a Radio Play on the BBC. The Film’s roots are more than evident in Alan Bennett’s beautiful script. This of course, is no surprise since in addition to writing the Book he also lived the story so deftly brought to life by Alex Jennings (Bennett) and Maggie Smith (Miss Shepherd).
The Lady in the Van tells the “mostly true story” of the somewhat mysterious Miss Shepherd who, due a slowly unfolding backstory, comes to be living in a van in Alan Bennett’s driveway. Perhaps more deeply, however, the Film tells the story of how society treat those less fortunate.
“Writing is talking to one’s self,” philosophizes Jennings’ Bennett early in the Film. Thus, we are introduced to the Writer Bennett who wants to keep Shepherd around as potential fodder for a new play, and the Person Bennett who wants to do the right thing for someone in need. While this duality is blatantly shown through two on-screen personas, the Film is also allows for the two faces of society through the neighbours (Frances De La Tour, Roger Alum, Deborah Findlay), who publicly say they want to be charitable but privately want the cantankerous woman to vacate their street.
Maggie Smith has portrayed the Lady in the Van previously in both its stage and BBC Radio incarnations, so it should come as no surprise to see her wear the character of Miss Shepherd with the ease of someone donning an old, beloved coat. Shepherd is prideful never saying thank you for small kindnesses or acknowledging her homeless station yet the audience is not turned off by her prickly nature thanks in large part to Smith’s subtly-nuanced performance.
Unfortunately, the Film falls apart during its Final Act, which feels as if it were tacked-on from another, less worthy production. Barring these final surreal scenes, The Lady in the Van is a lovely character study into how one decision can change a person’s life forever.
Mongrel Media release THE LADY IN THE VAN on Friday, February 5, 2016.