Thursday, 19 November 2015
The Lady In The Van (2015)
I took my mother to see The Lady In The Van. On leaving the cinema, her first remark was,
"I didn't know Alan Bennett was gay?"
It's a naive enough remark, but she then went one better by adding
"I thought the men coming round the house were doing jobs for him?"
It's the kind of maternal comment that Bennett has made a career from. But if that means my mum has now become an 'Alan Bennett Mother', what does that make me?
Fans of the National Treasure himself will lap this up, after all it has Bennett's wonderful dialogue and sly, deadpan humour and there's the familiarity of having it directed by his long time NT collaborator Nicholas Hytner. There's also the simply marvellous cast, with cameos from The History Boys alumni, alongside the likes of Roger Allam, Deborah Findlay, Jim Broadbent, Gwen Taylor and the lovely Claire Foy in more substantial roles, topped by two (or is that three?) superlative performances; Maggie Smith as the titular character, Miss Shepherd, and Alex Jennings as Bennett himself - both Bennett, the writer and Bennett, the man living through the experience of having this demented old dear taking up residency on his drive. Smith is, of course, genius and in describing her performance I can only reiterate the phrase Danny Leigh used in last week's Film 2015 review "Miss Marple meets Gollum" - there is no finer description. But Jennings deserves an equal amount of the accolades here, skilfully crafting a three dimensional interpretation of Bennett rather than offering up an impression or imitation for 100 minutes.
This is a very enjoyable film, comic and deeply tender as it explores Bennett's difficult relationship with both his ailing mother (Taylor) and his surrogate mother, Miss Shepherd. It's not perfect - I would argue that it's a shame the film couldn't find in its heart a way to end on a sincere note, opting instead for some rather jarring grand comedic gesture, whilst some of the characters (specifically those created for narrative purposes like Broadbent's somewhat panto villain) seem to offer little more than a walk on for a famous face like an old Morecambe and Wise sketch - but I think it's important to remember that, fifteen years of squatting on your doorstep or not, Bennett's tale is a very slight one as witnessed by the slender tome it started life out as. Ultimately, Hytner has delivered an enjoyable film that shows in Smith that the grand dame of British acting is in extremely rude health.