Film Review: The Lady in the Van

Posted in Reviews, Top Stories by - February 04, 2016
Film Review: The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van: A lady, a van, a mostly true story.

There’s an old saying that for those who like that sort of thing, this is that sort of thing. In this case, I don’t like that sort of thing…and I still fell in love with this movie. Alan Bennett’s “The Lady in the Van” was a touching story that is able to reach anyone who is willing to take the time to watch it.

The movie follows the story of Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) who lives out of her van. An ex-nun, ex-music student, and ex-who-knows-what-else, she convinces Mr. Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) to invite her to move her van into his driveway to keep her off the street. She’s meant to stay for three months. Instead she stays for fifteen years.

During her tenure in the driveway, Miss Shepherd’s secrets come to light. She’s on the run, it appears, and a strange man comes by on a regular basis to force her to pay hush money. He’s loud, he’s obnoxious, and he calls her Margaret instead of Mary. It’s not all roses. While it appears to be a lighthearted and heartwarming movie from the ads and from the introduction, it quickly becomes clear that while Miss Shepherd is a character, she is also a human being. She is obnoxious. She uses people. She bullies people. She lies. She cares about some things, like her van, but doesn’t care about other things, like where her excrement winds up – yes, shit is a running theme in the movie.

In The Lady in the Van, the acting is brilliant. There are very few characters, but each one wrings out a full measure of the person they portray. Maggie Smith is at her peak, showing off all of her skill in a challenging role. She must make us sympathetic to a character that, in many ways, is not at all sympathetic. Yet watching her on the screen, you can’t help but root for her, hope that she succeeds, and wonder if you would ever invite her to live in your own driveway. Alex Jennings plays a convincing confused writer. He appears as himself and himself at the same time, appearing like a double-mint twin, talking to himself whenever he is “of two minds” so that he can talk out ideas and discuss the conflicts he runs into while trying to write and trying to live.

Other characters, including the nuns and the “young Margaret,” all give their performances their all. While they are minor in comparison to Miss Shepherd and Mr. Bennett, they are no less authentic or realistic. Each person in the movie is a person – there are no two-dimensional creations.

The ending, even though it is completely expected, is still sad. The life Miss Shepherd lived was fraught with contradictions and controversy, yet as a viewer, it’s still a tragic life, regardless of how much of her misery was self-inflicted. Miss Shepherd is in no ways an every woman, yet somehow we can all identify with her and her demons.

The Lady in the Van Official Trailer:

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1 Comment on "Film Review: The Lady in the Van"

  • blyskalp

    Great Sweeps keep up the good work.

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