No doubt, I went to see the movie "The Lady In The Van" as an homage to the legendary actress and star Maggie Smith. She is 80+ years old and dominates the screen with her presence.
In this film, an English playwright names Alan Bennett forms a quirky 15 year friendship of sorts with the homeless Miss Shepard who lives in a van in his driveway.
This cantankerous, salty homeless Miss Shepard had lived in her van on this quaint, Camden Town, England neighborhood street in her van (while she could drive) and move up and down the street. Once local laws changed forcing her van off the street, she moved her "mobile home" into Bennett's driveway.
Shepard has quite a live story and keeps it exceptionally private though we learn that much of her life's direction emanated from a local convent where she spent time at (not all good). Smith smashes the role with an uncanny ability to be a most likable "mean old lady". You can tell her soul is good and maybe fighting some demons in an effort to remain a fiercely independent woman
(Side note - this a role that Smith has played her last 4-5 films. She has mastered this genre and wonder why she is choosing to play very similar roles in the home stretch of her legendary career. In all these films, at one point or another, she reveals a warm/sensitive sliver along with a faint smile that magnifies her eyes. I do hope she plays a role soon of a very positive/loving character that I know she can play and show us that side of her).
In this film, Bennett's character was split into 2, one living Bennett's life and one capturing his and Shepard's story on the typewriter. This does not detract from the story, rather adds some light humor as they gently quarrel.
We learn such few snippets of her life during the film and hold onto them with both hands as they explain lots of her anger and distrust. No doubt, the most heartfelt moment is of her reconnection with a piano after 50+ years. Her playing of a special Chopin piece privately while visiting a day center allows her a little piece and she shares the smallest of smiles.
Both Bennett characters are played by the very capable Alex Jennings and several fun cameos by the excellent Jim Broadbent and his most distinguishing voice.
This was a very nice film (though could have been 15 minutes shorter and would have elevated the emotional pull of the film).