Review: Maggie Smith Shines As 'The Lady In The Van'

Scott Carney ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Maggie Smith in The Lady In The Van. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
The Lady in the Van, Nicholas Hytner’s new film based on Alan Bennett’s play of the same name (which Hytner also directed the original production of), is not the type of movie you expect it is when you enter the theater. Yes, as the trailer suggests, the plot revolves around the true story of Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith, reprising her role from the original stage production), a woman who is homeless and saves up for an old, beat up van. Shepherd moves her van into an upscale neighborhood, uprooting the lives of its residents, particularly Bennett (portrayed in the film by Alan Jennings) as she ends up living in his driveway for the next fifteen years, becoming his next writing subject in the process.
One of the most standout aspects of The Lady in the Van, as well as its most surprising, is how strangely meta it is. The main plot of the film is not so much from Shepherd’s perspective as it is from Bennett’s, as the writer slowly pieces together the work that the audience is already watching. This type of storytelling has been done in other films before, but The Lady in the Van takes it a step forward in an interesting way. The primary conflict that Bennett has in the film is his struggle between his duty as a writer and his desire to live a valuable life and be a decent human being. As his writing side begins to win out in the middle of the film, events begin to occur that Bennett acknowledges to the audience did not really occur. Thus, the film takes dramatic liberties from its truth (not atypical in a film) but draws attention to them, leaving the audience to question whether any film should relay the entire truth, even if it is more boring than imagination.
Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings in The Lady In The Van. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
The other standout aspect of the film, not surprising at all, is Dame Maggie Smith who once again delivers a fantastic performance. Shepherd, who is rude to practically everyone around her, would come across as a very unlikable character in lesser actresses’ hands, but Smith portrays her with just the right amount of charm that the audience can’t help but love her. As the film progresses, Shepherd also evolves into a more layered character as her tragic backstory is revealed, another aspect of the performance that Smith nails.
Overall, the film’s run time is longer then it needs to be and even with its acknowledgment of dramatic liberties, some of the plot points are tied up a little too neatly. Still,  is a both sad and funny story that you won’t believe is true (because not all of it is).
Overall Grade: B
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