A Cranky Comedy
Having moved into his new home in Camden, Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) finds himself befriending Miss Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith), the lady who lives in a van in his street. Whilst everyone in the street is friendly towards her Alan takes pity on her, allowing her to move the van on to his drive and in doing so becoming unlikely friends. Although it was only to be a temporary stay Mary stayed on his drive for 15 years and over that time he learned a few things about her, such as her real name but also that she had been a nun as well as a gifted pianist.
I am going to put this out there right away because I am not much of an Alan Bennett fan, yes small doses oh his monologues entertain me but more than a couple of minutes is too much. Yet I will admit that whilst at times "The Lady in the Van" was a struggle it also grew on me and by the time it was coming to and end it had got me. I am not sure whether that is credit to Bennett and his style of writing about himself or whether that was just down to the way the natural story developed.
Now "The Lady in the Van" is by no means a complex movie and it is really all about the humour of the friendship which forms between Alan and Mary with her being a bit cranky and bossy. And it is the observational humour from the smell which Mary leaves behind when she uses his toilet to the amusing idea of having two Alan's in this movie with one being the writer and the other the doer, something which will make sense if you watch "The Lady in the Van" as it highlights his dithering personality. But that is it, the mystery surrounding Mary's past is not that great and there aren't really many revelations to surprise you with, just lots of engaging humour.
What is for sure is that Maggie Smith is the star of "The Lady in the Van" and truth be told she made me thing of an old woman who smelled and push around a pram in the town I grew up in. She got the characterisation spot on but in an amusing way so that you could laugh with her cranky eccentricities rather than at them and feel sympathy towards her as she tries to hold on to what little she has. But then there is Alex Jennings whose characterisation of Alan Bennett as two separate characters is a lot of fun and delivers that mix of who Alan is and what at times he would like to be.
What this all boils down to is that "The Lady in the Van" ended up a lot more entertaining and enjoyable than I expected it was going to be. As such even if like me you are not that fond of Alan Bennett's works I would say give this a go.