Movie Review: The Lady in the Van (2015)

Starring: Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Alex Jennings

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

The amazing true story of playwright Alan Bennett’s relationship with Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless old lady who lives in her van. One day he invites her to park her van on his driveway to avoid her being targeted for abuse from passers by but her temporary stay turns into a lengthy fifteen years.

Maggie Smith who plays Miss Shepherd is truly outstanding. This is as good as it can get when it comes to a character study and this is arguably one of the best performances by anybody that I’ve seen all year. She somehow manages to play an extremely likeable old lady but at the same time an obnoxious and an easily despised one too. Both parts of Miss Shepherd’s persona were nailed down to a tee and Maggie Smith really makes this film great even when the story doesn’t have much going on. The chemistry she shared with Alex Jennings who plays Alan Bennett, the man whose driveway she lives on for 15 years, was a joy to watch as the relationship slowly grew as they both gained more of an understanding towards each other and a varying degree of friendship.

Equally Alex Jennings was just as great to watch as Maggie Smith. As mentioned he plays Alan Bennett, a northern playwright who had recently moved to Cambden. Upon moving to his new home he discovers Miss Shepherd living in her beaten down old van outside of a house just down the road. She moves the van to different locations on the street and while everybody is trying their hardest to ignore her in a hope that she will move on, Alan is intrigued by her situation and at the same time concerned for her well being. Upon being harassed by passers by and an elderly gentleman (Jim Broadbent) who seems to have information on Miss Shepherd’s past which he can blackmail money from her to keep his mouth quiet, Alan invites her to stay on his driveway so she’s out of the direct line of fire. Initially it was only meant to be a temporary measure before she decides to move elsewhere but the years race by and she ends up spending 15 years living in her van on Alan’s driveway.

Alex Jennings is not an actor that I’ve come across in the past but he was so captivating to watch. Deep down his character had a heart of gold and is seemingly looking for some token of appreciation from Miss Shepherd for all he has done for her but he never quite gets what he’s looking for. One element of the movie that I thought was done exceptionally well was having Alex Jennings play two different versions of Alan Bennett who take different opinions on various aspects of his life. This is portray that he hasn’t completely made his mind up with what to do and is caught in two minds. At first it came across like he had a split personality disorder but the longer the movie went on for the reason behind his two personas became more clear.

While the cast was filled with some relatively well known British actors none of them outside of Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings played any real significant role which was both good and bad in my opinion. It was good as the story remained fully focused on the central protagonists and didn’t waiver from their character development which allowed me to get fully invested in both characters. On the flip side of the coin however, at times the story became a little stagnant in the middle section of the movie and I felt the characters were as developed as they were going to be so the film could’ve used a tertiary character added to inject a little more depth to the story.

Overall, this movie was a wonderful watch and the character acting by both Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings was great to watch. There wasn’t too much to the story though as it was focused on the growing relationship between the pair but as it’s based on a mostly true story I suppose it was hard to waiver from the actual events. Definitely worth checking out.

8/10

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