Bringing you honest reviews of recent releases
Maggie Smith – Miss Mary Shepherd / Margaret Fairchild
Alex Jennings – Alan Bennett
Roger Allam – Rufus
Deborah Findlay – Pauline
Jim Broadbent – Underwood
Nicholas Burns – Giles Perry
Pandora Colin – Mrs Perry
I’ll be honest – Maggie Smith is the best thing about The Lady in the Van. Not Alex Jennings. Not the supporting cast. Maggie.
The actress singlehandedly carries the entire movie with a hilariously funny portrayal of Mary Shepherd. I can’t elaborate on the woman’s comedic skills enough; her line delivery and comedic timing, physical comedy, voice, even her old lady image – are all splendid and well above the standard I expected.
As the lady living in a van, Maggie had the audience roaring with laughter. One guy up the back kept howling a sort of, “hurrrr, hurrr” like a machine gun under water. A girl down the front somewhere screamed with laughter at one point. And myself.. I was lapping it up and laughing out loud with many of the other viewers.
The story is simple, and with Smith (literally) at the steering wheel it is vamped up brilliantly by her naturally funny flair. The ensemble who back the actress work well too, delivering some great one-liner’s. They’re not the most effervescent of groups, at times coming across slightly bland in appearance and personality, but they manage to supply the dialogue for Smith to bounce off. But to be honest, she doesn’t need them – she could do the entire movie as a one-woman stand-up. Of course Jennings does act as one half of the on-screen duo, but although he delivers a convincing Alan Bennett, something about him slowed the movie down as it became focused purely on him and not her..
Much of this movie is Mr. Bennett sat at his desk writing in a book and talking to himself. Sadly, the dull northern droning doubles as a second version of himself appears at random intervals with whom he converses with. His future self talking to his past self basically. Jennings does a good job portraying the British playwright but unfortunately the movie reverses on itself and suddenly centers around his own personal history, with Mrs. Shepherd. What I started to realise as the man waffled on and on about his history, his experiences, his way of doing things was that I really didn’t care about him at all. I couldn’t give two shits how certain things (aside from the Lady) affected him, which coupled with that tediously moany Leeds accent made it a bit of a tedious watch towards the end. Alan Bennett’s in-depth and almost irrelevant thinking sent the movie off on a long road as “she” became “I”.
I’m sure the man is admired by many theatre-goers, but to me – in real life and in the movie – he is just a playwright who created some good material, he doesn’t exactly outweigh the masses.
Jennings narrates much of The Lady in the Van which is a nice touch, albeit slow in parts. And I found it ironic that the movie drags in places, just like his voice. My main point here is that Shepherd’s story becomes Bennett’s – and that’s not good. It loses its way and makes her an undercurrent rather than main character. Watching him wander round his lounge or filling the kettle to make tea, when what I really wanted was to know what was happening outside. In his driveway. To the lady in the van.
The Lady in the Van is a soft, easy-watching treat. The lead character is played superbly by Maggie Smith as she uses all the force of a batty, miserable but sensitive old woman. No one could have been better cast to play the character, who had the audience laughing out loud whenever she was on screen. The movie touches upon the subject of abandonment which is also played very well by the actress as the reason as to why she lives in the van emerges, bringing a more emotional atmosphere to the screen.
The ending is slightly strange and borders on sci-fi rather than satire, I wasn’t overly impressed.
Other than this ending and dreary Alan Bennett, The Lady in the Van isn’t a bad watch at all. Very funny stuff.