Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Lady in the Van

Yesterday I saw a preview screening of The Lady in the Van, a charming film written by Alan Bennett, directed by Nicholas Hytner & starring Maggie Smith. The movie is based on the play based on the memoir by Bennett, about the elderly homeless woman, Miss Mary Shepherd, who lived in a van parked in the author's driveway in North London for 15 years. The nearly plotless script is drily humorous, the drama coming from the gradual revelation of Miss Shepherd's stranger-than-fiction backstory. Classical music plays an important part, particularly Chopin's Piano Concert No. 1, & the Catholic church is the film's bad guy. Although it's clear that Miss Shepherd is filthy, humorlessly self-aggrandizing & generally unpleasant, Maggie Smith portrays her captivatingly & makes the case that she is admirably strong-willed, obdurate & self-sufficient.

Alan Bennett also uses the story to explore how his writing intersects with his life. Alex Jennings portrays the author pleasingly & impersonates Bennett's drawn-out accent & meek manner without parody, coming across as wry, benign & oddly cute. At the start of the film he posits that "Writing is talking to oneself," & seamless special effects allow him to interact with his imaginary double as he commentates on his telling of the story.

The film was playfully shot in the actual street where the events occurred & is peopled with bright cameo performances. I especially enjoyed Roger Allam as a snooty, opera-going neighbor. Members of the original cast of The History Boys pop up in various guises, as does Alan Bennett himself.

The Lady in the Van opens in San Francisco on January 22nd & in other Bay Area location on January 29th.

§ The Lady in the Van (2015)
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Written by Alan Bennett From His Memoir
UK, 103 mins

§ Opens January 22
Landmark Clay Theater in San Francisco
Century 9 in San Francisco
§ Opens January 29
Landmark Albany Twin in Berkeley
Camera 7 in San Jose
Century 16 in Pleasant Hill
CineArts @ Palo Alto Square in Palo Alto
CineArts @ Santana Row in San Jose
Regency Cinemas Six in San Rafael