I remember seeing trailers for The Lady In The Van almost a year ago in the cinemas, as the months went on I assumed something had prevented it making its way into cinemas. Alas the trailers began to surface again though and now audiences are finally able to see this story, previously a play, in cinemas.
If I was to ask you to predict what the best thing about The Lady In The Van I bet you’d get it right. Of course the best thing about the film is said lady, Maggie Smith as Miss Mary Shepherd. Maggie Smith is a wonderful actress, we all know that but she continues to impress in every role she plays. If you enjoyed watching Smith in the likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies (of course you did) you should love watching her here. The character she plays allows Smith to bring so much comedy to the role, with the help of the dialogue, which is ‘mostly true’ her performance is often a very humourous one. She of course can bring more to the film than just comedy though as the more emotional moments that the film calls for are also executed brilliantly by Smith as she effortlessly breezes between comedy and emotion. The Lady In The Van is at its best when Maggie Smith and Miss Mary Shepherd are centre stage, it’s just a shame that there wasn’t more of this as unfortunately the film is bogged down by the writer and character, Alan Bennett played by Alex Jennings.
Bennett throughout the film is seen talking to himself, however this is portrayed by another physical Alex Jennings so once you get past the confusion that this causes all that is left is irritation. Bennett throughout the film suggests how dull his life is compared to that of Miss Shepherd and I’d tend to agree with him, so what I couldn’t understand is why he got so much of the attention. I understand that he is very much part of the story but he was focused on far too much, when you have Maggie Smith in the lead role use her! I should make clear that Maggie Smith is used and is in the film a lot but any time that Bennett was the focus I was just wanting to get back to Miss Shepherd. For me Bennett really took away from what should have been a hilarious and touching drama but because of this largely uninteresting and unlikable character the film becomes over long and ultimately boring in parts. To get past this issue more comedy should have been injected because whilst the film starts off well and very funny it quickly becomes dull and Jennings as Bennett fails to match Smith as Shepherd. I’ll admit that things do come back together again during the ending and even the irritating ways that Bennett has been portrayed show merit, although this redemption simply goes on too long and undoes the wrong that it has just righted! Furthermore, the passing of time was not dealt with very well in the film as it was hard to distinguish how long Miss Shepherd has been living in her van on the street in the film for. One minute she has just arrived and then somehow fifteen years have passed, this was done very poorly, the film failed to chart this time period at all really.
The Lady In The Van, for me was a disappointment. The writer and character of Alan Bennett was as he said just too dull to work with the fantastic character of Miss Shepherd. The way he is portrayed starts off confusing and proceeds to become irritating. Due to this the film feels much longer than it is and often ends up being boring. However, amongst all its flaws is a wonderful central character and performance from Maggie Smith. Her talents are always enjoyable to watch and the film is always at its strongest when she is delivering a laugh or provoking an emotion. Maggie Smith does here what few other actresses could do and saves an otherwise very uninspiring film.
Rating – 5.5/10