One homeless woman is given a strong voice and a troubling back story in Alan Bennett’s profoundly touching film. Maggie Smith’s performance is no nuanced and real that you feel you are in the van with her, through key scenes.
Alex Jennings gives such an extraordinary performance as Bennett that it’s quite shocking when the real Bennett shows up. It almost feels like the actual person is an intruder, rather than the writer.
Bennett has written some amazing plays, including “The History Boys” but he does point out his own failings in “The Lady In The Van”. Much of his stuff makes me think of people with improbably tiny tea cups saying slightly clever things that verge on bitchiness and self-hate. When his writing works, it’s full of insight. Yet it can be uncomfortable to watch and hear his words.
Almost everything in the delightful “Lady” works. Apart from two superb leads, the touching presence of Bennett’s mother and the description of her problems acts as a contrast to Mary Shepherd’s (Smith’s) issues. Gwen Taylor is superb as Bennett’s mother.
Frances de la Tour and Jim Broadbent are excellent, in smaller parts. The whole cast reads like a who’s who of British theatre.
As time went by, Bennett and Miss Shepherd formed a bond. Well-meaning social workers and other professionals come and go, on screen. We get insight into Miss Shepherd’s past. Bennett cares about his unorthodox guest, but his uncertainty about what to do is a constant.
Clare Hammond has a tough task in portraying the younger Shepherd, but she is up to the job and is very moving.
It can be a bit theatrical and there are some stage effects that might annoy you.
But, all in all, it’s a film that says something new and important about being homeless and about the nature of creativity. It’s very entertaining and it will make you think.
I haven’t read Bennett’s book, but I will now.
The absolutely full Stratford East Picturehouse audience enjoyed it, as did my Very Intelligent Friend. And I forgot that the term “lady” in the title annoyed me. Why not “woman”? Never mind. This is a lovely movie.