The Lady In The Van - This Lady Rocks
Dir: Nicholas Hytner
Starring Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Domonic Cooper, James Corden, Frances de la Tour, Roger Allam, Jim Broadbent
There are two key strengths to Nicholas Hytner’s adaptation of Alan Bennett’s memoir/play – needless to say they are Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith. The latter, via the likes of Potter and Downton has become not so much a national treasure as something of a cliché of late – the dowager with a handy quip, always funny, always cutting. She more or less gives that performance once again for the first half of this “almost true” tale of the woman who sort of moved in to Bennett’s Camden Town driveway and stayed for 15 years. But, as the film develops, Smith moves into a far more interesting place, taking necessary back story and turning it into something quite moving and vulnerable. It’s almost a duplicitous turn on the actress’ part, lulling us into a “Maggie Smith blanket” of false security before going for the jugular, emotionally speaking.
Then on the other hand we have Bennett, or, more specifically, Alex Jennings’ remarkable embodiment of the man, here – literally – cleft in twain as the one who writes and the one who lives – barely (Jennings appears on screen in both personas.) More than anything, what comes through here – and this is in full tribute to Bennett the screenwriter – is the level of the man’s self loathing. For all the “feel good” intent of the piece, this is not so much a portrait of a lady in a van, as that of a man in some kind of emotional distress, in denial of his talents and fixated by his mother. You have to give it to both Bennett and Jennings for the self awareness. Commendable stuff.
(Former History Boys James Corden and Dominic Cooper both appear – but are little more than a knowing distraction.)
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