Opening tomorrow, 15 January, in the US, “The Lady in the Van” depicts a London that doesn’t exist anymore, a place that feels more like current-day Berlin – alluding to the communal spirit necessary to foster the relationship that unfolds.
Based on a true story, the film tells the story of playwright, Alan Bennett’s relationship with his homeless friend/neighbor, Miss Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith). Known for her over-the-top roles of being in power (Downton Abbey, Harry Potter), Smith turns down the “grace” factor with Mary and drives home the utter insanity of it all.
“Ms. Smith resists the opportunity to chew the scenery. She could have made Mary an adorably dotty, adorably cantankerous old woman with poor personal hygiene or made her a frail, pitiable creature begging for our tears. But in Ms. Smith’s tough, levelheaded performance, Mary is an irascible termagant full of batty notions clutching on to life as best she can. She is hard to like, and that’s good.” – New York Times
“…it’s a shock for those led by marketing materials to believe they were simply in for a quiet British charmer. The film also doesn’t fall neatly into the comedy category, in which its star Maggie Smith was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe.” – IndieWire
The film is based off of Alan Bennett’s 1999 West End stage production, which was nominated as Play of the Year at the 2000 Oliver Awards. “The Lady in the Van” debuted in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival before its UK November 2015 release.
“The Lady in the Van is a portrait of a powerful but puzzling, extraordinary woman who arrived from nowhere and completely took over nearly 20 years of Alan Bennett’s life,” says Kevin Loader (producer, Free Range Films) of what he loves about the story. “It’s the story of their relationship and the strange connection they developed through bad-tempered convenience and his curiosity into her life.” “All the great universal stories are universal because they are so particular,” Nicholas Hytner (former director, National Theater) suggests. “Most of this story happens on a tiny patch of land. That tiny little drive outside a particular house in North London.”