The Lady in the Van
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Alan Bennett is, arguably, one of the best playwrights of this century. His plays, including the like of The History Boys, The Habit of Art, The Madness of King George III, encapsulate the struggles of life and what it means to be alive on this earth all in the matter of an hilarious two and a half hour comedy. But Bennett's most autobiographical play The Lady in the Van remarks on friendship and love in the most unlikely of circumstances.
In 1973, London playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) developed an unlikely friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a homeless woman who lives in a van. When he invites her to park her van for a short while in his driveway, she ends up staying for the next 15 years.
Nicholas Hytner, well known for his work in the theater, brings his professional love affair with Alan Bennett to the screen. After directing numerous Bennett productions on stage, Hytner is able to perfectly capture the charm and appeal of Bennett's most personal production. He translates and adapts Bennett's rhythm and quick-witted dialogue perfectly to the screen, making the film an amusing, hilarious, and heartwarming two hours.
But the real stars of any Bennett play/ film is his actors. His actors are the ones who bring his wonderful, whimsical words to life. Maggie Smith is without a doubt the shinning star of The Lady in the Van. Reprising the role of Mary Shepherd from the stage, Smith is flawlessly able to capture the sternness of Mary, but also show her sensitive and caring side. She brings so much love and care to this lonely, strong-willed character. She perfectly captures what Bennett must have felt for the real Mary all those years ago: a hatred for her annoying, conniving nature, but also a pang of sorrow for her unfortunate situation. Like Alan, you can't help but to let her into your heart. She grows to be a friend; a friend you may not be able to stand but simply can't live without.
The perfect casting continues with Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. The chemistry between Smith and Jennings is brilliant. The banter between the two really makes you believe they have been living like the odd couple for 15 years. The two skilled actors play off each other with ease and elegance, capturing the audience's heart and attention throughout the entire film.
The rest of the cast is made up of actors who have previously starred in one of Bennett's plays, whether on stage or on screen. Actors like James Corden, Frances de la Tour, and Dominic Cooper make cameos in the film, supporting the playwright. Seeing as The Lady in the Van is an autobiographical piece, it is fitting that Bennett and Hytner pay homage to the people who bring Bennett's brilliants words to life.
The Lady in the Van is a fun, amusing, and touching film that brings a whole new life to Alan Bennett's stage play. The movie completely captures the spirit of Bennett's work, immortalizing his glorious, flowing words on film.
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