The 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.
The film was shot in the actual house on the actual street where the events took place, Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town. Some of the same people still lived there when the star prop arrived, decades later. See more »
There are a couple of historical mistakes which the filmmakers perhaps missed, and which show the hazard of filming in today's environment. In one of the early street scenes, circa 1974, Miss Shepherd is seen walking away from a crossroads. The traffic signals shown there are a modern design, not introduced until 1997. In another scene where she is seen with Alan Bennett near the gates of the convent, the block of flats in the background have modern double-glazing. In the 1970s, this would either have been single-glazed with wood frames or light aluminium. See more »
The smell is sweet, with urine only a minor component, the prevalent odor suggesting the inside of someone's ear. Dank clothes are there, too, wet wool and onions, which she eats raw. Plus, what for me has always been the essence of poverty, damp newspaper. Miss Shepherd's multi-flavored aroma is masked by a liberal application of various talcum powders, with Yardley's Lavender always a favorite. And currently it is this genteel fragrance that dominates the second subject, ...
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During the first part of the credits, a young Margaret can be seen playing the piano at her concert in King's Hall. See more »
Piano Concerto 1
Written by Frédéric Chopin (as Frederic Chopin)
[The principal piano piece that recurs throughout the film is Chopin's Piano Concerto 1, using both the slow middle (second) movement "romanza" and the quick final (third) movement "rondo". Alfred Cortot was especially associated with playing Chopin's piano oeuvre.] See more »
A very entertaining, and occasionally touching, film written by Alan Bennett, a British National Treasure - though I'm sure he must be irritated, if not sickened, by being so described. His unique voice is instantly recognisable: self-knowing, self-mocking, never ever self-regarding. In spite of a string of stage and screen successes, he is essentially a man of letters: there is a literary quality about his work, and a good deal of his humour emerges from the contrast between the elegance of his sentences and the earthy, realistic observations they contain.
Bennett adapted his memoir about Miss Shepherd, whose residence is the eponymous vehicle (one of a series of vehicles, as it turns out) that occupies his driveway for fifteen years, for the stage, which brought director Nicholas Hytner and actors Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings on to the project. All three return for this film version, and an excellent job they make of it.
Bennett slyly juggles a number of subplots without you ever really being aware that is what they are. When they are finally identified and tied up in a package, it feels a little too neat and tidy after all that sprawl - an interesting comparison is Charlie Kaufmann's bleaker vision of a writer's struggle with a piece of work, Synechdoche New York - but Bennett's droll dialogue, and his clear-sightedness over the way compassion intertwines with guilt, compensates for the sense of well-made screenplay that dominates the closing section of the film.
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