The Lady in the Van (2015): A Mostly True Story

Posted: July 1, 2016 in Biography, Comedy, Drama

The people of Camden live a peaceful existence, with the exception of a somewhat unwelcome, transient neighbor. Miss Shepherd is a elderly woman who lives in her van and encroaches on her neighbors for the occasional food and use of their bathrooms. As she begins to clash with different residents in the community, she parks her van in front of a new home, claiming that she was destined to pick that location. Feeling somewhat sorry for the old woman, Alan Bennett begins to take care of her and even offers to let her park her van in his driveway when the street parking rules change. Curious about her existence and care, Alan begins to develop a friendship with Margaret and begins to understand her situation from a completely new angle.

Stunning Performance from Maggie Smith: Typically known for more distinguished roles, the character of Margaret Shepherd was anything but distinguished. Living in filth and squalor, her performance combined all of the fear, anger, and disconnect one would expect by a woman haunted by her past and losing touch with a life she once lived. While the film avoided displaying any of the nastier bits on the screen, there was a palpable hesitation and sadness for her condition. She truly appeared to be a woman lost but not fully searching for a reconnect back to her old life.

Not Altruistic but Still Commendable: The role of Alan Bennett is an interesting one. He was literally beside himself in conflict over his decisions to support Margaret’s condition. While other residents of Camden wanted to find a way to get her to move away from their community, Alan was intrigued by her situation and story. As an actor and writer, there was something about her story that drew him to search for more. Even though he turned her life into his own play, he went above and beyond what most would do for a homeless, old woman…even if part of his assistance was being too polite to convince her to move on.

Haunted by the Past: Margaret’s situation became more clear at the end of the film, but it started with the scene that set her life in motion toward her homelessness. Getting into an accident along a quiet, countryside road, she was frightened about being held responsible for the death of the other motorist. While she was not at fault based on his reckless driving, she still feared eventual arrest. Part of that fear came from a turbulent life involving her transition from musical prominence to attempting to become a nun to being committed to an institution by her brother. Feeling unsupported, it appeared easier for her to exist mostly on her own and take what she needs rather than let others believe she was accepting their help.

Final Verdict: This is a quirky one, headlined by a strong performance by Maggie Smith. Margaret’s condition appeared to be a bit confusing at first but quickly becomes a sad but heartwarming tale of loss, fear, and unlikely friendship. Alan and the rest of Camden may have been too polite to get rid of her, but viewers will be able to appreciate the story of the lady living in a van.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


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