The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild (died 1989), a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.
There are a couple of historical mistakes which the filmmakers perhaps missed, and which show the hazard of filming in today's environment. In one of the early street scenes, circa 1974, Miss Shepherd is seen walking away from a crossroads. The traffic signals shown there are a modern design, not introduced until 1997. In another scene where she is seen with Alan Bennett near the gates of the convent, the block of flats in the background have modern double-glazing. In the 1970s, this would either have been single-glazed with wood frames or light aluminium. See more »
The smell is sweet, with urine only a minor component, the prevalent odor suggesting the inside of someone's ear. Dank clothes are there, too, wet wool and onions, which she eats raw. Plus, what for me has always been the essence of poverty, damp newspaper. Miss Shepherd's multi-flavored aroma is masked by a liberal application of various talcum powders, with Yardley's Lavender always a favorite. And currently it is this genteel fragrance that dominates the second subject, ...
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During the first part of the credits, a young Margaret can be seen playing the piano at her concert in King's Hall. See more »
The best thing Maggie Smith did for The Lady in the Van was not giving a brilliant acting performance, but agreeing to reprise her stage role as The Lady. Without that, this movie would not have been made.
This is a near-perfect "small" movie, but unlike many such films, this one is neither slow nor boring. The film begins with the sounds of a terrible car crash, and within ten minutes, we have several mysteries to chew on: Who is "the lady" really; why can't she tolerate listening to music; what happened in that car crash? These mysteries keep us engaged while playwright Alan Bennett tells us a story that at its core is more about the relationship between Bennett - or rather Bennett's two selves, the one who writes and the one who lives life - and the lady living in his driveway.
In choosing to portray himself as two characters also a feature of his play Bennett has chosen a device that could have been a disaster but in the rendering comes off brilliantly, especially near the end of this highly engaging film. I don't want to give anything away about that, so just watch it for yourself and enjoy.
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