Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Lady in The Van (UK)

Cine Europa
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

This film focuses on the true story of an old lady who parked her van in the driveway of famous English playwright Alan Bennett and stayed there for 15 long years. It is based on a 1999 stage play written by Alan Bennett which starred Maggie Smith in the lead role. 

Little is known of Margaret Shepherd (Maggie Smith) as she shows up in her decrepit yellow van in a quiet Camden neighborhood. Frail yet very loquacious with a wicked sense of humor, her van is piled with all sorts of items and when you engage her in conversation, she comes across as a deeply religious person who always invokes the Virgin Mary.  Is she mentally unstable? Is she a fugitive from the law? Does she have any family? How has she managed all these time living in a messy and quite dirty, cramped vehicle?

Maggie Smith reprises her role as Margaret Shepherd in this film adaption and as usual gives an excellent performance. Shepherd is the complete opposite of her award winning role as the Countess Dowager in the hit series Downton Abbey. Yet Dame Smith's commanding screen presence is the true anchor in this otherwise tedious film.

Alan who recounts the story through an on and off voice over is portrayed in dual role. The real Alan who has to put up with Margaret and his alter ego who is the one who writes the narrative aka as the voice in his head.  I don't really see the purpose behind this type of presenting a character because after a while it just got too creepy for my taste.

Well back to Miss Shepherd, there is only so much crankiness one can tolerate from such a curmudgeon and I think that Alan must have been quite a patient person to put up with her. Perhaps she reminded him of his own mother who was advancing in years and eventually put in a home. Perhaps he pitied the old woman who didn't have much in life. Or maybe as a writer, he found it appealing to have a close encounter with such an intriguing character. She inspired him to write more even though she could be quite disruptive and would often ruin his train of thoughts.

There is so much more to discover about the lady in the van yet we are fed with just enough details without ruining her mysterious aura and at the same time we are not left completely in the dark, either. In that regard, it was an effective narrative about her life.

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