Note: I saw this film at the Edmonton International Film Festival, so you may have to wait a while before it is released in theatres.
A delightful British comedy drama almost everyone will enjoy is Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van. Maggie Smith is extraordinary as ‘Miss Shepherd’, an old transient woman living in her van who decides, after a few setbacks, to park her home on the driveway of writer Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings). Bennett is understandably nonplussed by this development but he is incredibly tolerant and eventually discovers there is much more to Miss Shepherd than he first thought.
The Lady in the Van is based on a play by Bennett which itself is based on true events that happened to Bennett at his house in Camden Town (London). A fascinating fact is that the film was made on location at the house in question. Another interesting fact is that Maggie Smith was the first person to perform the role of Miss Shepherd when the play opened in London in 1989. Twenty-six years later, I daresay Smith has only gotten better.
The story, as filmed, lacks depth and should have been told in a tighter, more compelling way, but this humanizing film is funny, creative and intelligent. And it features Smith at her irascible best (which alone is worth the price of admission). The Lady in the Van gets ***+. My mug is up.