The Lady in the Van
This won’t be for everyone, but simply put: if you’re a fan of sardonic Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett, enjoyed The History Boys, or simply love everything Maggie Smith has ever done, The Lady in the Van is a must-see.
Bennett and director Nicholas Hyntner have a brilliant creative partnership, with five plays and three films to their joint names, The History Boys being their international smash-hit. Reprising her role from their 1999 stage production, Dame Maggie eschews the fancy frocks of Downton Abbey and dons the stench of a homeless person who shacked up in a van on Bennett’s London property for fifteen torturous years.
The story is based on his real-life experience – granted, an experience one would assume a playwright has fabricated, so farfetched and entertaining is its offering. Bennett, played perfectly by Alex Jennings (a staple of British television and a convincing Prince Charles in The Queen) breaks the fourth wall in true Bennettian fashion to admit to elaborations or provide a droll comment on the proceedings. The entire British acting fraternity chimes in (count the cameos from all those History Boys!), but it is the eponymous lady who is refreshingly rough and lacking in vanity in a role that probably marks one of the best of Smith’s considerably grand career.