The ultimate odd-couple come to life in this charming tale of how celebrated playwright Alan Bennett (The History Boys) became the ‘guardian’, caregiver and friend to eccentric homeless women, Ms Shepard (Dame Maggie Smith).
If praise is to be lauded over The Lady in the Van then it must be given to Dame Maggie Smith, who gives an extraordinarily eccentric performance as homeless drifter Ms. Shepard. Shepard has made her rounds at the Camden neighborhood that Bennett lives in, and eventually parks her van outside his home, before moving into his driveway. While her eccentricity makes her feral and grungy through the film, Smith eventually reveals a highly flawed, and deeply complex character whose life circumstances are due to a series of great tragedies. It’s this complex character reveal and Smith’s incredible reserve in these darker moments that cements her well rounded character portrayal of the ‘lady in the van’.
Joining Smith in The Lady in the Van is Alex Jennings in a split performance as celebrated playwright Alan Bennett. In a unique creative decision, director Nicolas Hytner utilises Jennings as two people, the man and the writer, with both characters taking up the screen at the same time. These two unique voices allow two sets of reactions from Bennett who, as the writer, looks on with an inquisitive curiosity at the madness that consumes the life of his other real self. But as the film grows his inquisitiveness develops into a real empathy and care for this mad old lady, and the two form a genuine, if not-very-unique friendship.
The Lady in the Van is a heartfelt film about two eccentric individuals who find meaning and an eventual friendship with one another. Charming in every sense of the word, audiences simply cannot go away from this one without smiling.