Whenever there’s a production made by the BBC, everyone associates it with excellence immediately. Well, it’s true, an English production (it doesn’t matter if it’s for film or TV) stands for a good choice most of the times. However, it’s hard to get rid of the traditional English style sometimes, and that’s what happens with ‘The Lady In The Van’: a perfect example of the old-fashioned English comedy.
It doesn’t matter what role you give to Maggie Smith, she will always do it better than you expect. We have seen her playing almost everything and she still doesn’t disappoint, not even if she’s seen with tatty clothes in the neighbourhood of Camden. In fact, she’s the protagonist of such an incredible story: Miss Shepherd is a homeless woman who parked her van in Alan Bennett’s house for an unknown reason, and she stood there for 15 years.
Pity that Dame Maggie Smith is the only one that lives up to all expectations. Even though it’s an amazing story and such an extraordinary work (especially when it comes to production) it all results to be such a cold and distant performance. And, sorry, jokes do not help to forget it. In fact, there are very few moments in which there’s no sarcasm (typically English), which could give a hint of one of the most peculiar aspects of ‘The Lady In The Van’: the presence of theatre.
Of course it had to make a tribute to theatre, Alan Bennett is an author, everybody knows it. That mixture between cinema and theatre is so well done in this case, that you notice Alex Jennings’ abilities while performing, even if you didn’t know that he’s a theatre actor. That’s why he had no problems portraying Bennett, especially when performing monologues, but anyway, there’s that cold feeling that cannot enable the audience to enjoy the film as much as English films usually do.
Nevertheless, it’s always impressive to see how Maggie Smith gets into her characters, and that’s what’s worthy, and that’s why, even though it’s not the best English film, it’s still appealing.
P.S. if you’re Catholic, go and watch it too, but be warned- you may get a little angry.