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The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

Released 13 November 2015
Director Nicholas Hytner

Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Jim Broadbent, Frances de la Tour, Eleanor Matsuura, Russell Tovey
Writer(s) Alan Bennett

Damian Jones, Kevin Loader, Nicholas Hytner
Origin United Kingdom
Running Time 104 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 12A


The potted description of The Lady in the Van sounds hopelessly twee; an adaptation of an Alan Bennett play directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Maggie Smith as the eponymous eccentric. It's a combination that for me conjures up images of wet Sunday afternoons, cups of sweet tea and chintz upholstered gentility. What a pleasant surprise then to find that The Lady in the Van is a gently raucous treat.

The Lady in the Van is the almost true-story of the unusual relationship between Alan Bennett (played by a spot-on Alex Jennings) and an itinerant old lady who would take up residence in various parking spots up and down the leafy streets of affluent 1970s Camden. Mary Shepherd (Smith) was, by all accounts, a difficult cantankerous sort but despite her off-putting personality, Bennett took pity on her and allowed her to park the van in his driveway until she “sorted herself out.” She was invited for a short stay but ended up living in the writer’s driveway for fifteen years.

I'm generally not a huge fan of stage to screen adaptations. The move between the two mediums is often too faithful to the very specific tone of the theatre, resulting in a film that feels staid and airless. To Hytner's credit, The Lady in the Van manages to avoid this problem entirely. While there is a strong dose of luvvie back-slapping going on in places (the distracting History Boys cameos and a final act appearance from Bennett himself), the film avoids the staginess that often plagues these kinds of adaptations. There is a vibrancy to the players and the direction that gives The Lady in the Van an airy vitality. In short, this is an extremely fun watch.

Smith and Jennings make a wonderful odd couple, their comedic bickering off-set with genuine affection. Around them, the Borough of Camden is populated by an impressive array of character actors including Jim Broadbent, Frances de la Tour and Roger Allam. The lively performances and genuinely funny script make The Lady in the Van a genuine treat – full of earthy humour and pathos.

- Linda O'Brien