Review of 'The Lady in the Van'

lady_in_the_van.jpg Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) is a somewhat reclusive homeless lady living in a van parked on the street in a wealthy London suburb. With her harsh manner she is not particularly interested in making friends though there is something about her spirit that local resident playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) takes to heart. When an, until now, sympathetic council decides to tow her vehicle she appeals to Bennett's goodwill to park the van in his driveway for a month or so and ends up staying there for 15 years, freely taking advantage of Bennett's goodwill by using his toilet and electricity. Over time Bennett grows to tolerate her nature and growing more and more protective including confronting her social worker on several occasions. He becomes intrigued as to her history as he pieces together her mysterious past. Who is the sinister “Underwood” (Jim Broadbent) who periodically returns to harass Shepherd and for whom she seems unable to cope?

Powerful performances here by the indomitable Smith - a role I simply could not be seen in the hands of any other actor - and, Jennings, as the quirky Bennett whose palpable reluctance in getting involved is continually overwhelmed by his sense of goodwill. It is this duality of his feelings that takes the literal form on screen as two physically separate characters which is somewhat jarring at first yet it works for the somewhat introspective-heavy dialogue.

Based on a true story, the film itself looks plain and very English. It has a sense of fun and tragedy that brings the story to life but here it is the characters that are first and foremost. What is refreshing is that Miss Shepherd never makes any apologies for herself or the way she is, never asking for any consideration until forced into a corner by circumstances beyond her control. Fiercely independent you can't help but love her despite her lack of hygiene and sour attitude.

If anything I can only say this is not exactly an action-packed adventure but a contemplative character study so may not appeal to a very wide audience. Take the time to take it in and feel the story. Wonderful, heartwarming and sad at the same time…I defy you not to be moved by the time the credits roll.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2016-12-29

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

Studio: BBC Films

Year: 2015

Length: 104 minutes

Genre: Melodrama