The Lady in the Van

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The Lady in the Van

At first glance this film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play and memoir sounds like the worst kind of treacle: an introverted writer (Alex Jennings, playing Bennett) finds his life turned upside down when a fiery, obnoxious and somewhat odorous old lady (Maggie Smith) parks the van she lives in outside his London home. This being the ’70s, neither he nor his upper-middle-class neighbours feel they can move her on. But does a soft heart beat beneath her brittle exterior? Well, not really. We learn pieces of this often hilariously mean woman’s past, but she remains someone most would rather avoid.

Likewise the restrained Bennett (often shown split into two, so his writing side can argue about her with the side that does the living) never really warms to her, but this very British tolerance builds to a caring, emotionally powerful relationship nonetheless. There are plot strands about Bennet’s writing life and the way he exploits (and alters) real life in his work, but while they’re interesting enough they’re not all that illuminating. Smith is the real star here and she excels in a meaty role, chewing scenery and giving the film real heart; as the main draw here she doesn’t disappoint.

Reviewed by Anthony Morris