The Lady In The Van
Cert: 12A / 104 mins / Dir. Nicholas Hynter / Trailer
I'll freely admit that I took my seat*1 in Screen 3 with a faint sense of dread. Usually, a Friday afternoon viewing is a relatively sparse affair, with the low-numbers dispersed around the auditorium so that interaction and distraction are relatively discouraged. But given that the target audience for The Lady In The Van is the generation who no longer have to wait to get out of the office on a Friday, I was joined by a rather senior crowd, and a sizeable one at that*2. And while this lot may not be checking Facebook every twenty minutes, experience has taught me that age is no barrier to the disregard of the Code Of Conduct, and the first twenty five minutes of the film were indeed accompanied by a near-constant rustling of confectionery bags and hushed conversation…
Luckily, the second Jim Broadbent movie of the week more than held its own against this initial torrent, although The Lady In The Van is also another film which has been harshly undercut by its own trailer. Watching the promo-reels for Nicholas Hynter's adaptation (as I have, many times over the last six months or so), you'd be forgiven for thinking that this film could only be more twee if Maggie Smith was joined by Julie Walters and they sat in the Bake-Off tent knitting bobble-hats while Zooey Deschanel played a ukulele in the background surrounded by kittens and Stephen Fry narrated the whole thing. Amazingly, this somehow isn't the case.
The semi-ironic kitsch is still there, of course, and the story itself of Alan Bennett's long-time visitor is neither surprising or demanding. Maggie Smith is fantastic in the role, but then you'd expect nothing less.
But the other half of the film - the half which the trailer doesn't even hint at - circles uneasily around the conflict of the professional writer, personified in this case by two Alan Bennett's inside the house ('one to live the life, the other to write it') snarking and sniping at each other's shared shortcomings. It's boldly presented early in the proceedings as a device whereby the author of the story/play/book/film can talk to himself whilst narrating and deconstructing the tale as it's being told, and brings a massive self-awareness to the point of being far more interesting than the film the audience were expecting to watch (which does 'Miss Shepherd' herself something of a disservice). That said, the final few scenes threaten to jump the shark of Meta™ completely, and I thought the "ascension" sequence to be jarringly out of place.
In a screenplay which doesn't delve too deeply into Bennett's personal life but gives the audience enough to have him be unfailingly relatable, Alan Bennett comes over as being sometimes sad, sometimes bitter, but always far too understanding of himself. There's also a remarkable amount of Effing and Jeffing in Alex Jennings' portrayal considering the 12A certification; but context and intention are everything, and you've rarely heard more charming profanity. Spanning twenty years in which no-one seems to physically age too significantly, the film arguably paints a far more detailed portrait of the artist than it does the subject.
But what stood out for me the most is that I know Broadstairs fairly well, and it says a lot that the small Kentish seaside town evidently doesn't have to be set-dressed at all to passingly depict the 1970s…*3
With certain reservations (ie the film won't be for everyone, despite me finding it surprisingly enjoyable), yes.
Oh, it's a Sunday-afternoon DVD without a doubt, but you may not get too many repeat viewings out of it.
I don't think this is Maggie Smith's best work, although that's only because she's consistently great. Alex Jennings is fantastic too, though
Well, let's go for Maggie Smith, Frances de la Tour and Jim Broadbent, who have appeared in all/various Harry Potter movies along with Domhnall 'Hux' Gleeson, Jason 'Inquisitor' Isaacs, Warwick 'Wicket/Wald' Davis, David 'Huyang' Tennant, Julian 'Veers' Glover
Which, when you consider that list covers all three Star Wars trilogies and two animated TV series, isn't bad going at all…
*1 Truth be told, I didn't actually take my seat, as there was already someone sitting there. I'm not a massive fan of the allocated-seating system but I've adapted to it, and while I've been 'that guy' telling someone to get the fuck into the seat printed on their ticket and out of mine, when that person is a lady in her seventies, it's debatable whether a lecture on theatrical etiquette (polite or otherwise) is going to achieve any worthwhile outcome. So, I was the better person and just sat in the row in front, bracing myself for the next patron to walk in and ask me to kindly get the fuck out of their seat. Luckily for everyone concerned, this didn't happen as I'd chosen a vacant one. The system is generally self-policing, but at what cost? The pre-film tension is unbearable. This is what happens, Cineworld! This is what happens! And it'll be me who gets thrown out for punching a pensioner who was technically breaking the law…
*2 And despite my antisocial moaning, the one thing I'll never moan about is the number of bums-on-seats. That's what the cinema is there for, and I want my local to be as successful as possible. No, it's the general conduct of those patrons which irks me.
*3 Yet ironically, Weston-Super-Mare is mentioned in the film, and for the exterior shot there they've used the cliff-tops in Ramsgate (next door to Broadstairs in Kent, rather than the Somerset location), and even in this day and age, Weston looks far more 1970s than anywhere else in the UK…
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.