The Lady in the Van (2015)

Cast includes: Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Alex Jennings (The Queen), Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge!), Deborah Findlay (The End of the Affair), Roger Allam (The Queen), Dominic Cooper (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Frances de la Tour (Vicious), James Corden (The History Boys),
Writer: Alan Bennett (A Private Function, The History Boys, The Madness of King George)
Director: Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys, The Madness of King George)
Genre: Light drama | Comedy | Biography | Mystery (104 minutes)


Huffington Post

We hear a crash and a scream…. see a van zipping across the landscape… police in hot pursuit. We know the woman driving… it’s Maggie Smith, but her character doesn’t have a name yet. She eludes the police, but has a cracked, blood-stained windshield. According to the title screen, this is going to be “a mostly true story.” “I would prefer if you didn’t use my lavatory,” Alan Bennett says to the filthy woman coming down the stairs. “The one downstairs smells,” she answers, heading out to the rusted van with the cracked windshield. That’s rich! Alan has just been trying to describe to us the “aroma” of the woman. (Thankfully, this film doesn’t have a scratch-n-sniff feature!) Alan decides to take us back to the beginning… 5 years ago, 1970. That’s when he bought the house at 22 Camden High Street. When he first encounters the lady in her conked-out van and reaches out, she is indignant. “I’m a sick woman. Dying, possibly!”

The neighbors already know not to encourage her, but they’re happy to greet their new neighbor… and commiserate about the old gal. “I’m not a beggar,” says Miss Shepherd. “I’m self employed (selling pencils).” At this point, she’s parked in front of #66, but the noise (music practice) is an affront to “Christian parking.” They’re not very welcoming at #61 either. It’s Alan at #22, who makes the mistake of letting her use the lavatory… the one downstairs.

All this time, Alan has actually been 2 versions of Alan… the one who lives and the one who writes. The one who writes prods the one who lives to collect material for stories. We learn that Alan already has a crusty old lady in his life… his mother. She regularly gives the writer material for stories, like the “foot fella” line… “Do you mean the chiropodist?” (It’s a reference to a wonderful early Maggie Smith/Alan Bennett movie, A Private Function.) About the old lady in the van… “She’s not a project I want to write about!” But that said, why is it that she speaks perfect French? As the plot thickens, Alan begins to weaken his defenses and offers to let Miss Shepherd park the van in his garden. “Don’t do me any favors!”

Fans of PBS will enjoy seeing many of their favorite actors in this rich tapestry of family and neighborhood intrigue. While no one wants to be guilty of being unchristian, most of the neighbors are pleased when the neighborhood homeless lady finds off-street parking at #22. Fans of Maggie Smith will enjoy seeing that she brings the same air of superiority to Miss Shepherd as to the dowager countess. It’s not a complicated plot, but it’s thick with nuance… as well as smells. Alan is accused of being overly obsessed about shit… which may well be true, given his other works. Still, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else would put up with Miss Shepherd’s shit… yes, literal shit. The neighbor Rufus sums it up pretty well when he points out, “In life, going downhill is an uphill job.

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

Partially true story of writer, Alan Bennett, doing battle with his old lady (in the van) and his other old lady (his mom)

Popcorn Profile

Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: M Art House
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely Varnished Realism
Nutshell: A writer finds himself in the middle of his story
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure Entertainment & Thought Provoking

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