Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Lady in the Van: Film Review

Release date: December 4, 2015.
Maggie Smith--yet again--gives a stellar performance.

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.


Films about Aging
Queen Mimi (2015): Film Review
Stranger in My Recliner (2016): Book Review


  1. I enjoyed this film too. I would like to see it again. Some of Bennett's novels/novellas are entertaining.

    1. I haven't read any of his written works. Thanks for the tip. He does have an engaging narrative voice.

  2. Maggie Smith...a fearless actor and amazing woman! I love everything whe does, but haven't seen this yet. You gave me a nudge!

    1. Diane: I hope you enjoy the film as much as I. It can be very sad at times, but both lead characters show amazing resilience in the face of hardships.

  3. Yes this was a great movie. Maggie Smith is great, quite a contrast from her Dowtown Abbey role. A good friend of mine had a homeless man living in his car in front of her house. She befriended him, let him take showers and do laundry and gave him food. He is only in his 40's and finally found work and could afford to move into an apartment.

    1. That's interesting about your friend. I am glad that guy was able to get a job and improve his situation. We all are so close to tragedy. One layoff or health crisis or natural disaster can make any of us homeless.