Starring: Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Alex Jennings, Dominic Cooper, James Corden (Rated PG – 104 min).
Like all good British comedies, this has an appeal which cannot be matched – boosted even more by the presence of Dame Maggie Smith. A true story of cloistered nun Mary Shepherd, who after a tragic hit and run accident, is regarded a fugitive.
Cut to Camden, a well to do artist’s area in 1974 where Mary is now homeless living out of the same van as the earlier accident. Moving the van around to various spots within the same vicinity in front of each individual neighbour, eventually some of the households take pity on her – but not many. It is not until she is taken in by closeted playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) anchored in his driveway, the act of goodwill turns into an hilarious nightmare. She does not leave for 15 years.
Getting involved in her plight is part of the fun, the audience cannot help but gain sympathy for Mary even while yelling at noisy children playing in the street, people playing loud music, or loose running pets that may invade her space. This old bat is mad, literally, possibly deranged and potentially dangerous also with the black cloud of the accident all those years ago lingering on her mind at all times.
The story is well presented although a major loophole in plot concerns while the police, who have been after her for years, do not prosecute while she remains driving and living out of the key piece of evidence.
Dame Maggie has a career as long as your arm, I remember her presence on screen as a kid in classics like Clash of the Titans or A Room with a View. Now of course after around 80 feature films, she is a knockout on the television hit Downton Abby. She deservedly received a BAFFTA (British Oscar) actress award nomination for this role and really is the centrepiece of the whole proceedings.
By the finale, the film goes broad generating slapstick routines that the late Benny Hill would appreciate. Completing the cast are a welcome array of thespians matching it with Maggie including the great Jim Broadbent, however Alex Jennings as real life writer Alan Bennet is quirky with amazing reactions to the quips from his driveway visitor of over a decade. Feelgood fun with doses of emotion, Lady in the Van is a winner.
Shane A. Bassett