The Vermont Cynic

Film tells a touching story


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Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 10.23.26 AMA stubborn homeless woman and an introverted playwright make an unlikely pair in “The Lady in the Van.”

The film is based off the true story of Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a homeless woman who lived in Alan Bennett’s (Alex Jennings) driveway for 15 years.

Jennings also plays Bennett’s imagined “writer” self, to whom he constantly rambles about his troubles and tribulations. 

The film takes place in North London, and is directed by Nicholas Hytner and written by the real Alan Bennett. The film closely resembles the play Bennett wrote after his experience with Shepherd.

Smith coincidentally played the same role  17 years prior in the 1999 theatrical version of the story.

Illustration by ALYSSA HANDELMANN

[/media-credit] Illustration by ALYSSA HANDELMANN

“The Lady in the Van” is full of whimsy and charm, but tackles some difficult topics, such as the stigmas surrounding homelessness, mental illness and aging.

Cruelty and judgment orbit Shepherd as a woman living on the fringes of society, and Bennett often grapples with his preconceived notions of her situation.

This is often aggravated by Shepherd’s seemingly ungrateful attitude towards Bennett’s hospitality and relentless demand for her privacy and personal space.

The two make a comical pair, as Shepherd is eccentric and constantly pushes Bennett’s buttons, who is too modest to stand up for himself.

However, impatience and judgment are counterbalanced by Bennett’s fascination of and affection for the peculiar woman who, unbeknownst to him, is harboring a deep and disturbing secret.

Compassion and concern for Shepherd likewise grows in the neighborhood over time, which is one of the more touching aspects of the film.

Although the relationship between Shepherd and Bennett is captivating, flashbacks and disordered sequences make the film challenging to follow at times.

What makes this film truly special is how personal and close to home the story is for Bennett.

Bennett’s vivid memories translate into a visually stunning and emotional film.

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Film tells a touching story