Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The lady in the van

Who would have thought that a cantankerous old woman living in a van would provide such a rich seam for playwright Alan Bennett. One could say Miss Shepherd has turned out to be a nice little earner for him, what with the book. the play and now the film - recompense perhaps for his allowing her to park her van in his driveway for 15 years.

Nicholas Hytner once again directs from Bennett's script - as he did the theatre original, which also starred Maggie Smith. I did not see that production (though have seen Smith on stage several other times - see Smith label). The formidable Miss Shepherd has turned into another splendid Smith creation, the equal of her Miss Brodie, Judith Hearne, or cousin Charlotte in A ROOM WITH A VIEW
They seem to be promoting this as a comedy, but you may be tearful by the end, as it gets deeply affecting as Miss Shepherd ages and begins to look as dilapidated as her van. We see Smith's frailties too, the actress is 80 now and this may be her last major role, after those HARRY POTTER and DOWNTON ABBEY runs. Her last screen outing - MY OLD LADY - dropped beneath the radar, but they are pushing the boat out with this one, of course it has the added Bennett prestige. Smith has been granting interviews and returned to the chatshow circuit, as Awards Season gets underway. The competition will be stiff this time (Cate and Kate, Rooney? and Saoirse Ronan will be a major contender (see BROOKLYN review below) but I sense a final Oscar for Smith, a mere 45 years aftet her for first Best Actress Win (her second one was Supporting, for CALIFORNIA SUITE). But back to 1970s Camden in London ... this is a great London picture too.

It is all perfectly re-created here, with that leafy Camden enclave. Alex Jennings is sterling as the two Alan Bennetts: the one who watches and writes, and the one who lives his life (the real Alan turns up at the end to see the filming in the actual house he lived in then). An array of Bennett and Hytner regulars pop up, some briefly: Roger Allam and Deborah Findley as "posh" opera-going neighbours, along with Frances De La Tour - who comments regularly on the action.
Then theres's those HISTORY BOYS: James Corden has a moment as a barrow boy, Russell Tovey as one of Bennett's "guests", Dominic Cooper, Stephen Campbell Moore as the doctor attending Bennett's Mam (Gwen Taylor) up north, Selina Cadell, Jim Broadbent and more. At the centre though is Dame Maggie, resplendent, infuriating, rude, smelly, imperious, ungrateful and ultimately very touching as her secrets are revealed. One cannot take one's eyes off her. They may as well hand her the Oscar now. The final scenes will have you laughing and sobbing - you have to see her final moment for yourself.... This, BROOKLYN and CAROL coming up - cinema is fascinating again.    

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your review and that Maggie has to be the front runner at next year's Oscars. Cate and Rooney will probably cancel each other out and while there will be a lot of sympathy for Lily Tomlin in GRANDMA, the movie is too slight for her to win.