The Lady in the Van

By February 15, 20162015-2016 Season

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Thursday, February 25, 2016
6:30 & 8:25pm
United Kingdom

Director: Nicholas Hytner

Cast:  Maggie Smith, Dominic Cooper, James Corden
Runtime: 104 minutes
Rating: PG

Golden Globe Nomination Best Performance Actress in Comedy or Musical: Maggie Smith

“There are few false notes in the sturdy, pleasantly entertaining The Lady in the Van.”–Jake Coyle, Associated Press

The Lady in the Van is based on actual events in the life of British writer Alan Bennett that he turned into a book in 1989, a play in 1999, and now a film directed by Nicholas Hytner.

Alex Jennings plays Bennett, who we first see as moving into the Camdem neighbourhood of London. It’s the 1970s, and Bennett is a shy, witty sort known for appearances onstage and writing plays for the stage and TV.

Maggie Smith is Miss Shepherd, a bag lady, living out of a dilapidated van. She exudes a mixture of frayed gentility punctuated by paranoid conspiracy theories and schizophrenic rants, with a bit of daft humour and grace. The neighbours, both kind-hearted and irritable, dread her parking the van in front of their houses.

Kind and passive-aggressive soul that he is, Bennett at one point allowed Miss Shepherd to pull the van into his driveway. And there she remained. For 15 years.

The Lady in the Van is mostly about what we owe other people and ourselves. It’s more a reminder of how well and how messily our good intentions play out.

Obviously, Maggie Smith is the reason to see the film and she delivers with impressive honesty. Miss Shepherd is a crazed and imperious woman, a damaged creature who evokes pity and annoyance and sympathy and finally sadness at the ways in which lives get warped. Smith never plays her false — not once does she make the character cuddly or an object lesson to the saner, settled people around her.

In Ms. Smith’s hands, her lady in the van remains complex and unknowable — a mystery to the end. And that is acting.

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