The Lady in the Van (2015) ★★★★☆

Fans mourning the loss of Downton Abbey will thoroughly enjoy Smith’s performance.

This year’s dose of Alan Bennett comes in the form of an adaptation of his West End play, The Lady In The Van. A peculiar period in Bennett’s (Alex Jennings) life is told, when an elderly woman (Maggie Smith) decides to park herself in his driveway and remain there for fifteen years. The two construct a unique bond over the course of her time spent there.

Presented theatrically with the presence of not one, but two Alan Bennett characters, both played by Jennings, this gives the film a distinct play feel to it, rather than entirely cinematic. Thankfully, the ‘twin device’ didn’t feel reminiscent of Arnie Hammer in The Social Network, nor Tom Hardy portraying the Kray Twins. Instead, it highlights how Bennett is paired up with his alter ego, ‘the writer’ and ‘the liver’. The film sways much more towards the TV film than a cinematic adventure, but it’s a top notch one at that.

Nobody could take on the role of Miss Shepherd quite like Dame Maggie Smith does. And she certainly looks to be having a whale of a time doing so. She provides us with tears of laughter, first rate comedic timing and memorable one-liners, reflecting a wonderfully weird personality for us to latch on to. Alex Jennings substantially mirrors Alan Bennett, pulling off his strong Leeds accent with ease. Jennings and Smith share a wonderful  on-screen chemistry, allowing the audience to really invest in this odd, yet heart-warming tale of an unlikely friendship.

What makes it such a charming watch is the more serious themes at play, especially the apparent hypocrisy of organised religion and it’s lack of care and compassion for those in need. The only disappointing part of the film was when a CGI-heavy scene interrupted (and spoilt) the ending. A sequence including what easily resembled an i-Movie effect was carelessly thrown in to risk a humourous effect, but did nothing of the sort. This was sadly misplaced, taking into consideration the rest of the film is so carefully shot and constructed.

Exquisitely witty, The Lady In The Van makes for a thoroughly entertaining trip to the cinema. So, if you are searching for a film that will make you laugh, but also shed a few tears, then this is the film for you. British film close to its best.

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