To my intense joy, Mark managed to get hold of a copy of this the other day, and last night we watched it. Maggie Smith was utterly faultless as Miss Shepherd; there was a great cast and setting – but as with nearly all Alan Bennett films I felt it was a play struggling to be a film. The device of having two Alan Bennetts – the writer and the person – talking to each other I found a tad awkward, and when at the end the real AB turns up on his bike to be greeted by the assembled cast complete with cameras, the whole thing took a final lurch away from cinema and into theatre. Incidentally, I felt exactly the same way about The History Boys, that it’s basically a filmed play.
That said, it’s still utterly brilliant. Maggie smith is Miss Shepherd to the life; the van itself is just as I imagined it and the street and its inhabitants make a convincing backdrop (roles here for Frances de la Tour and Roger Hallam and a brief cameo by the guy who plays Dakin in History Boys.) Where AB scores is in his observations of character: of the new, Guardian-reading inhabitants of Gloucester Crescent, Camden, he wryly observes, ‘there was a gap between our social position and our social obligations. It was in this gap that Miss Shepherd (in her van) was able to live.’ I think the film was a little harsh on the nuns who looked after her, although when you consider that they put a stop to her promising musical career on the outrageous grounds that it ‘wasn’t God’s will,’ perhaps it’s not so unfair. So in the end although I enjoyed the film very much, I was also left with the uneasy sense that here was a story that didn’t quite know how to tell itself.
If you’ve seen it, let me know your thoughts. Meanwhile, here are some other reviews on imdb: