Skip to main content

Film Reviews The Lady in the Van: Maggie Smith shines in a sentimental adaptation

The difficult and mysterious Miss Shepherd, played by Maggie Smith, in her erstwhile stage role.

Nicola Dove/Sony Pictures Classics / Mongrel Media

3 out of 4 stars

Directed by
Nicholas Hytner
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

There is, thankfully, no way to actually convey the evocative medley of sherbet lemons, latrine and Yardley's lavender talc that Alan Bennett (played by Alex Jennings) describes as emanating from "the lady in the van" – the difficult and mysterious Miss Shepherd, played by Maggie Smith, in her erstwhile stage role.

The reunion of writer, director and star is perhaps why there's an elegiac, sentimental quality to this film adaptation, from the manipulative meet-cute of Alan and Miss Shepherd through their disputations.

"One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation" is how Alan describes the interloper with the ducklike walk in his driveway.

Story continues below advertisement

Yet as unpleasant and haughty as she is, their unlikely relationship is heartwarming.

The original play's sharp edges are smoothed away by familiarity with the story, and possibly by the audience affection's for Smith, who has made a career of playing clucking chaperones, imperious crones and dowager countesses.

Smith is never more beloved than when she plays just this sort of curmudgeon.

Happily for the movie, Bennett's Lady is the cantankerous one the performer was most born to play.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter