The Lady in the Van
Firstly apologies for having gone AWOL for a fortnight. Life took a hectic turn (annual school fireworks extravaganza one week for which I’m Health & Safety Manager, at the same time as preparing for school inspection this week). I’ve been too worn out to blog, but have built up a pile of books to talk about now! But first, a few words about The Lady in the Van…
I’ve been looking forward to seeing this since first hearing about it, and had to see it on the day of its release. I took my daughter, and she loved it too.
I just couldn’t think of a better pair of actors to play Miss Shepherd and Alan Bennett than Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings – both were pitch perfect. Although Maggie Smith is queen of the put-down with her impeccable tone and hauteur, she also doesn’t need to say anything – her face is just so expressive, it was a triumph of acting. Seen in close-up on the screen, it was very moving.
The film, made at Gloucester Crescent in Camden itself in and around the house still owned by Alan Bennett where he let her park her van temporarily – she stayed for 15 years, was adapted from Bennett’s stage play, in which fifteen years ago, Maggie first played Miss Shepherd – I do wish I’d got to see the original play. The film has built upon the stage play by expanding on the fact that Miss Shepherd had been a concert pianist, and in one moving scene near the end Maggie plays the piano – for real.
The story is narrated by Alan Bennett – who is split into two – ‘the one that does the writing and the one that does the living’ which is a really clever way of taking it. The two Bennetts are quietly bitchy and supportive of each other at the same time.
I won’t say much more about the film, except that there are cameos for almost all of the History Boys, and the neighbours are a riot! Go see it and enjoy the masterclass in acting from Dame Maggie.
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I first read The Lady in the Van in Alan Bennett’s collection of memoir and essays Writing Home, published in 1994, although The Lady in the Van had been published separately previously on its own in 1989. I’d thoroughly recommend Writing Home and Untold Stories which came afterwards. But, although I already own a book with it in, freed from the inspection yesterday afternoon, I went to my lovely local indie bookshop and they had copies of a new edition of The Lady in the Van. Apart from a film tie-in paperback, Faber have also brought out a hardback, illustrated by David Gentleman, and including loads of stills from the film, intro from director Hytner and film diaries by AB – and they had copies signed by Bennett – SOLD!!!