A rude and smelly homeless woman who is squatting in a writer’s front yard. Sounds like an overbearing character, right? That’s the title character in “The Lady In The Van, ” and I admit that initially I thought the character was off-pitting. But hello, the actress who plays her is Dame Maggie Smith, who is one of the greatest living actresses right now (I can only think of two other – Meryl Streep and Nora Aunor) Smith infuses such humanity in this character that you will totally understand how Alan Bennett let her squat outside his window for fifteen years. In the end, I would even call the character lovable and darn it if I didn’t maybe perhaps possibly shed a tear for that same lady.
This movie is based on Bennett’s memoirs, and in the beginning of the movie, we get a tag that says that the story is “mostly true.” It’s almost an unbelievable story of a woman, former nun – she was pushed away – who thought she had killed someone in a vehicular accident (he just plowed through her dashboard, not her fault) and spent the rest of her life running from the law. She spent time going from street to street until she befriends Bennett, then a budding playwright. He sort of becomes her muse, and erstwhile companion. Alex Jennings makes a fine Bennett, sort of a nerdy geeky gay as those things existed in the late 70s. Nicholas Hytner directs with a relaxed pace, which may be a little too relaxed for Americans used to action scene pace. Who cares? I thoroughly enjoyed this little gem of a film, who had a lot of things to say. And Dame Maggie Smith, c’mon.