Review of ‘The Lady in the Van’

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:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3722070/reviews?ref_=tt_ov_rt

Kirk out

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Review of ‘The Lady in the Van’

  1. Graham Price

    I have only seen the film of History Boys, so cannot compare it with the source play but I know a couple of people who have seen both who believe the film to be superior.

    I can’t make my mind up about Bennett – his wit and cleverness can’t be denied but there is also a certain (probably unintentional) smugness about his work, which surfaces in lame humour derived from place names (‘..pregnant in Eccles’, etc). I heard something on Radio 4 recently which I thought could have been either Bennett himself or someone parodying him, even down to the voice – can it be a good thing that I can’t tell a parody from the source?

  2. Sarada Gray

    I haven’t seen the play either, I was only saying that the film was quite static and play-like. It’s an interesting point about parody and self-parody: my guess is that Bennett is quite self-conscious and perhaps alive to ways in which he can be parodied. I think there’s a sense in which he does parody himself. As to Northern place-names, everyone jokes about them, don’t they? How can you not, with names as resonant as Cleckheaton or Oswaldtwistle? Then again they do quite well on ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a clue’ with names from London and the South-East…

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