|Release date: December 4, 2015.|
This time, Smith plays Mary Shepherd, the titular character in the 2015 film The Lady in the Van.
This film is based on real events experienced by author, playwright, screenwriter Alan Bennett. Readers are probably most familiar with his work as a screenwriter on The Madness of King George (1994), based on his play.
Bennett first knew Shepherd in the late 1960s as a vagrant who would park her broken down van on the streets of his neighborhood in Camden (outside of London).
Bennett's character is played by Alex Jennings, and the film is shot on the same street and the same house where the events took place.
In order to prevent her van from being towed, he let her park in his driveway.
She stayed for 15 years.
Over those many years, Bennett and Shepherd have an uneasy relationships. She is moody and irrational. She's not clean. She exhibits signs of paranoia. She's bossy and argumentative. Nevertheless, Bennett ends up helping her in significant ways. However, he protests that he does so not out of kindness but because he's timid.
Over the years, Bennett puts together bits and pieces of Shepherd's conversation to learn more about the life she had before she began living as a vagrant.
I don't want to spoil the film, but I will relay some of her depth and complexity in broad strokes: Mary has studied music. She's deeply religious. She has some living relatives. And she lives with crippling guilt about a tragic event from decades prior.
The film gave me 104 minute to think about our obligations to other people and how people's personal stories are a lot richer than we initially perceive. It also asks questions about the plight of the mentally ill, the homeless, and those moving into late life with limited resources.
And it made me respect Bennett for helping someone who was difficult to help. I actually believe he must be kind, despite his protestations against sainthood. You can watch Bennett argue with himself about his manner and motives, given that the film has two versions of Bennett so that his internal dialogue isn't depicted by voice over but by spoken aloud banter.
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