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The Lady in the Van

When writer Alan Bennett moved to Camden Town in London in the 1970s, old Miss Shepherd and the old van in which she lived were already there. One day he allowed her to park her van in his driveway. She remained there for 15 years.

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THE LADY IN THE VAN is as British as Gardeners’ Question Time, sheep dog trials, five o’clock tea, and toast with orange marmalade. It is even-tempered, reserved, a bit old-fashioned, a bit eccentric, but clever with a quiet humor throughout which acknowledges its own ridiculousness. Writer Alan Bennett is telling a “mostly true story.” When Bennett moved to London’s Camden Town in the 70s, when gentrification had just begun, there was an old vagabond, Miss Shepherd, who moved from house to house in the van she lived in till she landed in Alan Bennett’s driveway after the parking regulations harshened. She stayed there for 15 years.

In real life the now 82-year old Bennett is a recognized British author who mostly works in radio and TV and who has written the screenplays of THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE and THE HISTORY BOYS, among others. Bennett's greatest talent is his fine grasp of the spoken word, social situations, and showing the madness lurking beneath the bourgeois façade. One of his most known works is “Talking Heads”, a series of monologues made for the stage and TV in which perfectly normal people like housewives, nurses, office workers, and seniors reveal their hidden obsessions which more often than not turn out to be building blocks for their private hell.

At first it seems that it is Miss Shephard who is plagued by her obsessions. When Maggie Smith, in her Oscar-worthy depiction, wobbles along in her cobbled-together rain coat and clothes that appear to have grown into her body, you can smell the smell of homelessness, unwashed clothes, dried up food, urine, and powder she exudes. Miss Shepherd never talks about herself, but she does talk about everything under the sun using religious metaphors. She takes the dapper writer aside and whispers: “these young men who come in and your house, don’t trust them. They are on the road at night. They are all communists.”

Upon second glance it appears that all of the inhabitants of the street are not without their own mental problems. Most of them show signs of middle-class guilt which mostly manifests itself in their behavior towards Miss Shepherd. They bring by gifts which Miss S. gruffly accepts but are also thankful that it is Mr. Bennet who is taking care of her. One day he dryly observes that people are starting to ask about his “old lady” as if they were married. They couldn’t be more dissimilar. The bedraggled Thatcher-supporting old woman living on the street fighting for her spot speaking perfect middle-class British and the reserved, orderly left-wing man who speaks with a proletarian Yorkshire dialect and spends every day at his desk looking out the window self-deprecatingly writing about all of Miss S.’s messes he has to clean up. Both – the writer and his alter ego – are played by Alex Jennings. Alan Bennett himself has a small cameo at the end of the film.

Hendrike Bake (INDIEKINO MAGAZIN)

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Großbritannien 2015, 104 min
Genre: Biography, Drama, Comedy
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Author: Alan Bennett
DOP: Andrew Dunn
Montage: Tariq Anwar
Music: George Fenton
Distributor: Sony Pictures Germany
Cast: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Frances de la Tour
FSK: 6
Release: 14.04.2016

Website

Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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