6.7/10
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The Lady in the Van (2015)

Trailer
1:59 | Trailer
A man forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman living in her van that's parked in his driveway.

Director:

Nicholas Hytner

Writers:

Alan Bennett (screenplay), Alan Bennett (memoir)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Maggie Smith ... Miss Shepherd
Jim Broadbent ... Underwood
Clare Hammond Clare Hammond ... Young Margaret Fairchild
George Fenton George Fenton ... Conductor
BBC Concert Orchestra BBC Concert Orchestra ... The British Symphony Orchestra
Alex Jennings ... Alan Bennett
Jamie Parker Jamie Parker ... Estate Agent
Deborah Findlay ... Pauline
Roger Allam ... Rufus
Richard Griffiths Richard Griffiths ... Sam Perry
Pandora Colin ... Fiona Perry
Nicholas Burns Nicholas Burns ... Giles Perry
Dominic Cooper ... Actor
Giles Cooper Giles Cooper ... Passer by
Tom Klenerman Tom Klenerman ... Tom Perry
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Storyline

This movie tells the true story of Alan Bennett's (Alex Jennings') strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd (Dame Maggie Smith), an eccentric homeless woman who Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden house. She stayed there for fifteen years. As the story develops, Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild (died 1989), a former gifted pupil of pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A mostly true story See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG - 13 for a brief unsettling image | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official Facebook

Country:

UK

Language:

English | French

Release Date:

26 February 2016 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Lady in the Van See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$6,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$10,021,175

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$41,387,687
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Producer and Director Nicholas Hytner told The Guardian that, while filming in Camden Town, the crew arrived on-set one morning "to find the van had been broken into, and that two people had spent the weekend inside it having a good time with each other." This necessitated the removal of all of the van's contents, which had been dirtied up for artistic reasons, to be "deep-cleaned, and then made filthy again". See more »

Goofs

In the opening scene the windshield was cracked and had a blood stain. This cracked area and blood stain were much smaller than they were for the rest of the film. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Alan Bennett: [typing] The smell is sweet, with urine only a minor component, the prevalent odor suggesting the inside of someone's ear. Dank clothes are there, too, wet wool and onions, which she eats raw. Plus, what for me has always been the essence of poverty, damp newspaper. Miss Shepherd's multi-flavored aroma is masked by a liberal application of various talcum powders, with Yardley's Lavender always a favorite. And currently it is this genteel fragrance that dominates the second subject, ...
[...]
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Crazy Credits

During the first part of the credits, a young Margaret can be seen playing the piano at her concert in King's Hall. See more »

Connections

Featured in Film 2017: Episode #44.9 (2015) See more »

Soundtracks

London's Burning
Traditional
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User Reviews

 
Watch where you step
5 February 2016 | by ferguson-6See all my reviews

Greetings again from the darkness. "There's air freshener behind the Virgin". That line should provide the necessary caution for you to be braced for just about anything to be said by any character in this latest from director Nicholas Hytner. Billed as "A mostly true story", it's actually more commentary on how we treat those less fortunate and how we use others for our own gain. That bleak message is cloaked here in humor and a wonderful performance from Dame Maggie Smith.

Alan Bennett is an author, playwright and screenwriter known for The History Boys and The Madness of King George (Oscar nominated for his script). He is also at the core of this story – every bit as much as Ms. Shepherd, the lady in the van. While living in upper crust Camden Town, Mr. Bennett offered to let Ms. Shepherd park her van in his driveway for a few weeks until she could make other arrangements. This van was also her home, and the years (as they are apt to do) came and went until this arrangement had lasted 15 years (1974-1989).

You might assume that Ms. Shepherd was an extremely appreciative "squatter", but in fact, she was quite a cantankerous and difficult woman, possibly/probably suffering from mental instability. Maggie Smith brings a humanity to the role that she had previously owned onstage and radio. She goes far deeper than the wise-cracking old lady role we have grown accustomed to seeing her play … though her vicious dialogue delivery remains in prime form. Throughout the film, we assemble bits and pieces of Ms. Shepherd's background: an educated-French speaking musician-turned nun-former ambulance driver-who "possibly" won awards for her talents. She is also carrying a burden of guilt from a past tragic accident that keeps her in the confessional on a consistent basis.

Mr. Bennett is played by Alex Jennings (The Queen, 2006), and the film actually presents dual Bennetts – the one doing the writing, and the one doing the living. These two Bennetts are a virtual married couple – arguing over Ms. Shepherd, and jabbing each other with barbs aimed directly at known emotional weaknesses. The living Bennett claims to be so full of British timidity that he couldn't possibly confront the woman junking up his driveway. The writer Bennett takes the high road and claims he would rather write spy stories than focus his pen on the odorous, obnoxious transient living in his front yard. Of course, now that we have a play and movie, it's difficult to avoid viewing Mr. Bennett's actions as anything less than inspiration for his writing … though the extended charitable actions cannot be minimized.

With director Hytner and writer Bennett reuniting, it's also interesting to note that more than a dozen actors from The History Boys make appearances here. The list includes James Corden, Frances de la Tour, and Dominic Cooper. Also in supporting roles are Roger Allam and Deborah Findlay (playing constantly irritated neighbors), Gwen Taylor as Bennett's dementia-stricken mother, Jim Broadbent as a blackmailing former cop, and Marion Bailey as a staffer at the abbey.

Filmed at the same house where the van was parked for so many years, the film is a reminder to us to exercise tolerance and charity in dealing with the poor. Even Bennett's grudgingly-offered assistance is a step above what would typically be expected. While we could feel a wide spectrum of emotions for the two main parties here, it's Ms. Shepherd's character who says "I didn't choose. I was chosen". We are left to interpret her words in a way that is either quite sad or accepting.

The film mostly avoids dime store sentimentality, and that's in large part due to Maggie Smith's performance. Few are as effective at frightening young kids or putting the elite in their place. The ending scene shows the real Alan Bennett cruising into the driveway on his bicycle just as the blue plaque honoring the lady in the van is displayed. We can be certain this gesture would not generate a "thank you" from her.


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