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 »
The most notable features of Alan Bennett's writing are his honesty and wry, gentle humour. Despite some plot embellishments the authenticity of his ambivalence towards his mother and Miss Shepherd and the mixture of guilt, exasperation and pity which governed his relationships with these very different women, is beautifully conveyed. Maggie Smith's brilliance lies in her ability to suggest the mental illness which destroyed Margaret/Mary's life and still clouds her mind combined with her shrewd determination to survive while retaining some shreds of dignity and independence. She senses Alan's inability to turn her away and he, in turn, seems to recognise a sensitive, traumatised soul in the stinking, obstinate vagrant. Alex Jennings captures the essence of Alan Bennett, his fastidiousness, his high moral standards and his relentless pursuit of truth in his writing. The superb script and talented cast give a vivid portrayal of this period of the writer's life and the charm of his Camden neighborhood.
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