The Lady In The Van (12A)

Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Picturehouse, Liverpool
From 13th November 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Maggie Smith has been touted as a possible Oscar winner for her role in this film but I am not sure why. OK it's a impressive performance by the veteran actress, more accustomed to playing middle-class types, but without seeming to be unkind she has had plenty of preparation in playing this character.

She first appeared in the part in a stage production in 1999 and then later in a radio production.

Supposedly based on real-life events, some of what occurs is pure fantasy by Alan Bennett. The movie is adapted from his memoir, published in the London Review of Books, about the woman, Miss Shepherd, who lived in a camper van in his driveway for fifteen years.

For instance, it shows the time in her life when she was a nun, and then, hey presto, she is later seen performing majestically on the piano at a Proms concert. Or was it the other way round?! From performing at the Proms to becoming a nun?

More absurd fantasy takes place when, after being placed in a care home for a brief spell, as a result of falling ill in her van, she enters an empty room wherein lies a piano. At eighty-years-old, and not having played the musical instrument for many years - and more than likely having arthritic hands - after a couple of false starts, and without any sheet music to guide her, she begins to play with effortless precision as in her heyday. Nonsense in the extreme.

Taking part in the film are a lot of stock characters or cartoon strip characters, call it what you will. For example, Francis de la Tour is cast as an eccentric woman, surprise, surprise! Apparently, but I was not aware of this when viewing the film, some of the characters resemble those featured in Bennett's 1960s cartoon series The Stringal.

One of the most impressive aspects was the use of two Alan Bennetts, both ably played by Alex Jennings, conversing with each other. The other one being an alter ego, examining himself and his actions.

In particular, and Bennett did question himself why he did it, what made him choose to allow a bad-tempered, ungrateful woman, who he could hardly call a friend or even an acquaintance, to live in his driveway for many years, but readily puts his mother, who is starting to suffer from dementia, into a care home.

Perhaps there was more material for his plays to be gained from Miss Shepherd rather than his dull and characterless mother.

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