March 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm #181851
Definitely looks like she is getting to sink her teeth into a part other than a character similar to Violet on Downton and Muriel in the Marigold films. I would love to see her get her 7th nomination especially after getting so close with the 1st Marigold Hotel movie! If she does get nominated I hope she shows up to the ceremony like when shee was nominated for Gosford Park!August 29, 2015 at 7:37 pm #181852
This film is confirmed for a awards-qualifying release in 2015.September 5, 2015 at 10:48 am #181854
Her performance just looks majestic. I think a comeback nomination (and maybe win, who knows?) for Smith is easily my number one Oscar wish this year.September 27, 2015 at 8:00 pm #181855
Just saw the movie in Calgary film festival, and I got to say, I was really disappointed. Maggie Smith provides some laughs, in the same vein of the trailer, but her character is very unidimensional and the movie is very teatrical, making me not feel invested in the character or in the movie. The drama feels flat and the dialog and the direction is very stage-y. I think that she will be nominated for a comedy golden globe, but I don’t think she can get the Oscar nom, and honestly, her acting here is just an expansion of what she did in marigold hotel, that worked because she was a supporting player. I would give the movie a 1.5 out of 5… I really couldn’t get in to it unfortunately.September 29, 2015 at 3:27 pm #181856
Maggie Smith and her usual roles. What a stretch!September 30, 2015 at 5:36 am #181857
The Hollywood Reporter Review
We’re informed at the beginning of Nicholas Hytner’s screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s 1999 play that it’s “a mostly true story.” Figuring out what is true and what isn’t is one of the pleasures of The Lady in the Van, but the foremost one is watching Maggie Smith gloriously reprising her acclaimed stage performance. The veteran actress should be garnering plenty of attention at awards time for this film being released by Sony Pictures Classics.
The story, which begins in 1970, concerns Miss Shepherd (Smith), a dotty, homeless old woman who lived in a broken-down, yellow van parked in the playwright’s driveway at his North London home for 15 years. Indulging her presence out of some combination of charity, morbid fascination and passivity, Bennett also couldn’t help but see the dramatic and comedic potential of the situation.
The uncomfortable relationship between life and art is a principal theme of the film, one that is dramatized by the presence of two Bennetts, both expertly played by Alex Jennings. One of them participates in the action while the other observes and sardonically comments on it.
“I live, you write, that’s how it works,” one Bennett says to the other.
It’s a device that worked better on stage than on film, despite the cinematic advantage of being able to have one actor in both roles. (To further accentuate the meta-theatrical aspect, Jennings has appeared onstage playing Bennett in another play, and is briefly seen in this film performing a monologue from the playwright’s Talking Heads). Although the exchanges between the two versions of the character provide the film with some of its sharpest moments, they inevitably exude a stagey artificiality that proves distracting.
But it’s Smith’s eccentric oldster who is the film’s driving force, and the 80-year-old actress doesn’t disappoint. Not surprisingly, she fully exploits the humor in her character’s bizarreness, reaping much comic mileage from her proclamation that she receives guidance from the Virgin Mary; her utter obliviousness to her lack of personal hygiene; her hatred of music that sends her fleeing whenever she hears a note; and her ragtag wardrobe that’s been assembled from various dumpsters.
Besides mining the humor, Smith also subtly conveys the emotional pain and desperation of the addled old woman, especially in the scenes in which she’s taken away by social services and gently treated to a thorough washing, feeding and medical examination. The character’s backstory is ultimately revealed in an encounter between Bennett and her older brother that movingly illustrates how anyone’s life can turn on a dime if afflicted with mental illness.
Although also based on fact, a subplot involving Miss Shepherd’s apparently causing the hit-and-run death of a motorcyclist adds little to the proceedings other than to provide an opportunity for a striking, if brief, appearance by Jim Broadbent. The supporting players include a number of esteemed British stage actors including Frances de la Tour (playing the wife of composer Vaughan Williams) and Roger Allam, as well as James Corden in a cameo.
This marks the third collaboration between the scripter and director, who previously worked together on both the stage and screen versions of The Madness of King George III and The History Boys. The results are as assured as you might expect, with further verisimilitude provided by shooting the film on the very street and inside the actual house in which the real events took place.October 20, 2015 at 5:26 pm #181858
The Lady In The Van is EXACTLY what you think it’s going to be. Basically The Dame Maggie show and none the worse for it.
Really great to see her in something relatively contemporary and without
all of her usual acting tics. The haughty stare is still very much in
place though but there isn’t a stately home in sight, which is a relief.
Mildly humourous rather than laugh out loud funny and with a rather
clumsy post modern spin on it this isn’t going to be garnering many
Oscar noms but I think it has a good chance of getting a Best Actress
nod which lets be honest is all that really matters.
Thoroughly enjoyable without actually being much good if that makes any sense.
7/10November 13, 2015 at 8:46 am #181860
The film is all about Dame Maggie Smith, as it should be, because she is brilliant in this role.
It is easy to see it as just an extension of her Exotic Marigold Hotel character mixed with a flipped version of the Dowager from Downton. She gives so much more than that though. There is the out of the box woman who has no airs or graces, shows little compassion to her neighbours, and full of whitty put-downs. But there is also a more emotional side to the performance which is great to see Maggie do, and achieve it to a point that not many other actresses could do for a character like Miss Shepherd. She makes her incredibly likeable.
Alex Jennings is really good in the dual role of Bennett the writer and the Bennett who lived alongside Miss Shepherd for so many years. He offers great humour in his anecdotes of his time with her, and of his late night habits. The rest of the cast have very little screen time, with cameo’s from several of Bennett’s The History Boys cast members dotted around the film. The script is good, but it is Smith who lifts from a decent screenplay into something substantially more within her scenes. Her presence is truly missed in the scenes she is absent from. The absolute best laughs are all in the trailer – like all comedies nowadays – which is frustrating to experience.
It is a typical British dramatic comedy, led by a sterling Maggie Smith who I hope gets awards recognition for this. The film itself may have to wish for more of a miracle for that to happen, but Dame Maggie shines like the absolute gem she is.
November 21, 2015 at 11:38 am #181861
Saw this last week but hadn’t had the time to post.
Smith’s performance is a thing of beauty. An absolutely barn stomping knockout with moments of both comedic brilliance and heart wrenching tenderness. This is the kind of tour de force that in my book should win her the Oscar in a heartbeat. She deserves all of the plaudits she has been getting.
As for the film as a whole I throughly enjoyed it although with Smith’s towering performance it could really have been awful in all other aspects and I still would have enjoyed it. Thankfully it was decent in all aspects. I enjoyed Alan Bennett’s playful script and Nicholas Hytner’s direction balances well the comedy and the later drama of the film. Alex Jennings is also superb and ,while he cannot match Smith, is certainly deserving of praise. I would love to see him cheekily nab a Globe nod now that the Comedy Actor category is so weak.
The only real issues I found with the film were that perhaps it was too slight and meta occationally in terms of its style and that I am still on the fence about whether I thought the film needed the dual Alan Bennet role however entertaining it was.
Anyway, regardless of these slight negatives this is a lovely character piece led by one of the greatest performances I have ever seen.