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The Lady in the Van - review

The Lady in the Van - review

The potential pitfalls in a comedy-tinged drama about homelessness are many. Somehow Alan Bennett, who adapted his own stage play for director Nicholas Hytner, falls into none of them. This is another more-or-less true story: the story of Bennett’s relationship with Miss Shepherd, an elderly former nun who parked her van in his London driveway one day and refused to leave. She stayed there for 15 years.

Bennett’s writing is remorselessly unsentimental and full of acid-tongued humour, much of it, in the best British style, directed at himself.

Maggie Smith plays Miss Shepherd. The role is a gift to her, but she is also a gift to the role. Bennett’s writing is remorselessly unsentimental and full of acid-tongued humour, much of it, in the best British style, directed at himself. But the film’s power, as a specific human story which is also an unsparing commentary on how society deals with the difficult, needy, thorny people at its margins, depends utterly on having the right lady in the van. She has to be complicated, exasperating, sympathetic, a mystery, strong-willed: not just a problem, a person. Though also a problem. This is Maggie Smith’s best performance in years.

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Film & TV