Lady on the Van

imageI have recently watched the poignant and at times moving British comedy-drama The Lady in the Van. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, written by Alan Bennett, and starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett’s strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home.

She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild (died 1989), a former gifted pupil of the 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.

Smith previously portrayed Shepherd twice: in the original 1999 theatrical production, which earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards; and in the 2009 BBC Radio 4 adaptation. Hytner directed the original stage production at the Queen’s Theatre in London, while Bennett adapted the screenplay from his 1999 West End play of the same name, which was nominated at the 2000 Olivier Awards for Play of the Year. The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

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