Maggie Smith is one of my most favourite film stars. Having said that, of course I loved The Lady in the Van. She is absolutely delightful to watch as Miss Mary Shepherd, the lady who lived in a van for 15 years on Alan Bennett's driveway. Alan Bennett, the playwright, used his own diaries to create this true story, first as a play for the theatre, and now as a film.
Alex Jennings plays Alan Bennett, and is an unforgettable character. A lonely homosexual, Bennett can't resist when Mary asks him if she can park in his drive on a temporary basis. She adds interest to his life, and gives him something to talk about to his alter ego, Alan Bennett, the writer. Bennett, as played by Jennings, is a wonderful foil to Mary. An lonely author, absorbed in his work, perhaps he would be one of the few people who would not consider it too strange that he had a mentally-ill, old lady living in his driveway.
The acting is superb, as is that from all the other characters. The direction by Nicholas Hytner is sure-handed, and there is certainly not a dull moment, or the impatient feeling that it needs to be speeded up. I did find the final scenes of Mary's Assumption up into Heaven a little bit out-of-place in this day and age. That mythology is no longer in vogue. But as Mary was a Catholic, perhaps it was reflecting her inner life and how she might have envisioned her afterlife. A bit too saccharine for my taste. Too much fantasy! Seemed out of keeping with the rest of the film.
The Lady in the Van is thought-provoking. Once the Social Services caught up with Mary, why was she allowed to continue living in such filth and discomfort? I understand it has something to do with everyone having the human rights to live as they choose, but surely there is a limit to which society would want a mentally-ill person like Mary to live in such neglect? I would hope that if I ever were brought to where Mary found herself, my fellow humans would want more comfort for me than she was afforded.
I had no trouble at all staying awake. The cinematography is professional and competent, as is every aspect of the film. I found the film highly entertaining, as did my friends.