Based on the real-life tale of a homeless woman named Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), who parks her van in the driveway of a house owned by playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and lives there for 15 years. Over the course of her stay, the two form a unique friendship.
What is it with wise-cracking old people all of a sudden? First was De Niro in Dirty Grandpa and now here is Dame Maggie Smith in The Lady in The Van. I’m not saying that this is like Dirty Grandpa as this is a lot less offensive than that film. I was probably one of the only ones who liked Dirty Grandpa but as you’ll soon figure out, I liked this one a lot more. The story here involves a homeless woman named Miss Shepherd (Smith) who parked her van in the driveway of a house belonging to a writer named Alan Bennett (Jennings) for what was supposedly going to be for 3 months ended up as 15 years. Over the course of that time, they begin to develop a strong friendship. I will warn you right now that this is a very British film so its various accents might take some getting used to and I admit to it taking some time for me to adjust but I didn’t mind. The film starts off with Shepherd driving her car and parking in driveway after driveway in one London neighborhood until she ends up staying in the driveway off Mr. Bennett. Over time she becomes a symbol of the neighborhood, having run-ins with everyone being the wise-cracking old lady she was. Smith was just exceptional here as Ms. Shepherd bringing to the role a great amount of dry wit and emotion through her multitude of facial expressions. She showed great range while being both fragile at times and full of life at others. She was also able to be both funny and dramatic here in her interactions with the various people in the neighborhood. Her performance made her character captivating to watch which made me invested in learning about her and her backstory. This was fun to watch over the course of the film as we got to learn a lot more about her and how she got to where she was. This film was not just about her however as we got to learn about Alan Bennett. The film which is a “mostly true” story told from Bennett’s perspective or perspectives as he is portrayed by two characters, the one who stays home and writes and the other one who lives life. This is used to demonstrate his own internal conflict showing different sides of himself, the writer and the good samaritan. In order to add comedic and dramatic effects, he did take some liberties by adding certain things including a fantastic ending and adding some eccentric characters along the way. The bulk of the film hinges on the relationship between him and Shepherd and lucky enough for us, it works beautifully thanks to the performances of Smith and Jennings and their great chemistry. Smith was great to watch and everything but I would have liked a little more focus on Bennett as he also was an interesting character. Overall, this was just a great display of writing and acting led by an exceptional performance by Maggie Smith.