Some people stay with you….
And that’s exactly what Dame Maggie Smith as the dodderingly head strong Miss Mary Shepard does in the screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van.
This marvellous retailing of Bennett’s stage play tells the true story of the tamp parked on Bennett’s drive who intended to stay for three weeks and ended up a resident of the front garden for sixteen years.
Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) takes abode in his new Camden residence, befriended by its well to do occupants. not too soon afterwards a cantankerous woman with ‘vagabond nobility’ parks her rundown van which doubles as her motor home in the street.
Miss Shepherd (Dame Maggie Smith) settles in their street in and much to his dismay persuades Alan into pushing said vehicle which refuses to start as the heavens open in total down pour.
When council get involved persuading Miss Sheppard that for her own welfare she needs a permanent address Bennett foolishly allows her to take up home in his drive way for ‘three weeks’ a measure of time that spans for years and leaves the play write as her begrudging guardian.
It’s a cosy wit-fest of an incredibly ‘British’ film which is in every sense a play about writing and the discovery of self-preservation as it is about the tramp on Bennett’s drive. The idea of the writer being two people and states of self , you as the writer and the you that picks the pieces up around it really struck a chord we me obviously but it’s Bennett’s other pen portraits of people that give the story an ultimately very ‘human’ feel to it.
It’s been sixteen years since Smith took to the stage as Bennett’s accidental neighbour in its initial play, ironically the same stretch of time Shepard was parked up on the drive after vowing to stay three weeks. It’s as if this break has resonated with her drawing her closer to the cantankerous yet oddly likeable woman she portrays.
Filled with ‘History Boys’ cameos from the likes of James Cordon, Russell Tovey etc al it really is a laugh a minute van-tastic feast of a British flick. Part of the credit here goes to the script but the chemistry between Smith and Jennings really is very rich as they demonstrate both the hilarity and sense of the situation. It’s like a warm English breakfast tea with a chocolate hobnob which if anything will leave you wanting to go home and hug your gran.
The Lady in the Van hits UK cinemas Friday 13th November
In the meantime indulge your self with these delightful clips….