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Youth Review: The Lady in the Van

01 December 2015

The Lady in the Van is the new film starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings and tells the story of a lady who lives in a van.

The film is based on playwright Alan Bennett's original 1989 play of the same name, which also starred Maggie Smith as a miserly nomad who travels from London borough to London borough, in a clapped out old motor.

Unbelievably, Bennett’s original play was actually ‘based on a true-ish story,’ although judging from the ‘true-ish’ sentiment, we can never quite be sure how much of it actually happened. Consequently The Lady in the Van plays out as part comedic drama, part self-aware existential crisis. Bennett played by Alex Jennings is represented quite literally as two separate entities. One is the writer and one is the person actually living in the reality of the story. This leads to some very funny insights into the motivations of the other occupants of Allen Bennetts street, as well as some very revealing internal turmoil in the playwright’s own mind. The group found this a very interesting and unusual technique, which worked really well as a narrative device. The group also found that it gave the film itself an unexpected undercurrent of weirdness and at times darkness that they weren’t expecting.

But what really made an impression on the group were the performances. Maggie Smith is comfortable and uniquely likable as Ms Shepard and Alex Jennings delivers an uncanny performance as Alan Bennett one and two. There are even a few hat tips to Alan Bennet’s History Boys as well, with cameos from Dominic Cooper and James Corden, who both appeared in the original History Boys stage show and film adaptation.

But did the group like it? Well after some in depth discussion the answer was a definite yes. It was not quite what the group thought it would be, based on the very cosy trailer that promoted Lady in the Van. This film is slightly darker, stranger and goes much deeper than its accompanying poster in the foyer suggests, however is all the more enjoyable for it. Alan Bennett has never been as simple and cosy as you might think and this is a perfect example of that.

So overall, if you like Alan Bennett it’s a no brainer, but if you are on the fence about him then Youth Review suggest you check out this film. It’s funny and humane and well worth a look before The Lady in the Van drives off to some other unsuspecting London street.

Overall score of 4/5

By Collective Review by QUAD Youth Review