This big screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s memoir of his friendship with Miss Shepherd is surprisingly heartwarming and funny to watch.
Playing Miss Shepherd is a role that is very much a departure from the grandeur of Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey – but Maggie Smith rises to the challenge perfectly.
The Lady in the Van is a story of Miss Shepherd, who although initially wants to keep her van on Alan Bennett’s drive for only a few months – ends up staying for 15 years and develops an enduring friendship with the writer during that time.
Although there are other characters involved, it really is about the pair and their different attitudes towards life and their clashing personalities that somehow manages to create a wonderfully warm friendship.
Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd (first name in constant debate), delivers her lines with her characteristic sharpness and humour that it is difficult not to warm up to her character almost immediately. But she also portrays how vulnerable and scared about her past catches up with her wonderfully and sympathetically.
Alex Jennings is also wonderful to watch as the awkward Alan Bennett and how although he is reluctant initially to help, he can’t help but grow fond of her – even more so when he begins to learn about her past. The only slight difficulty is having two different Alan Bennett’s involved: one is the writer while the other is living life in his own quiet way – it feels as though it is a bit of a distraction.
Yet Nicholas Hytner (an experienced adaptor of Alan Bennett’s work) has expertly directed a film that has plenty to enjoy but quite subtle and gentle that’s get to the heart of the story perfectly. It is worth a watch for the performances alone.