The Lady in the Van (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 10, 2016 by Dennis Amith
“The Lady in the Van” is an entertaining and endearing film but also a film that showcases a magnificent performance from Maggie Smith. Recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2015 Van Productions Limited. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Lady in the Van
YEAR OF FILM: 2015
DURATION: 104 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin (PRC), Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics
RATED: PG-13 (Some Thematic Material)
RELEASE DATE: April 19, 2016
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Written by Alan Bennett
Produced by Nicholas Hytner, Damian Jones, Kevin Loader
Music by George Fenton
Cinematography by Andrew Dunn
Edited by Tariq Anwar
Casting by Toby Whale
Production Design by John Beard
Art Direction by Tim Blake
Set Decoration by Niamh Coulter
Costume Design by Natalie Ward
Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd
Jim Broadbent as Underwood
Clare Hammond as Young Margaret FAirchild
George Fenton as Conductor
Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett
Deborah Findlay as Pauline
Roger Allam as Rufus
Richard Griffiths as Sam Perry
Based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (played by a magnificent Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins “temporarily” parks her van in Alan Bennett’s (Alex Jennings) London driveway and proceeds to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favor becomes a relationship that will change both their lives.Acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with iconic writer Alan Bennett to create this rare and touching portrait.
From director Nicholas Hytner (“The History Boys”, “The Object of My Affection”, “The Crucible”) and Alan Bennett, award-winning dramatist and screenwriter (“The Madness of King George”, “The History Boys”, “A Private Function”) comes a true story that revolves around a real-life experience from Bennett’s life on a factual person.
The story of Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lives in a dilapidated van and makes her permanent living area on Bennett’s driveway in the 1979’s and would stay living near his driveway for 15 years.
The film was shot in and around Alan Bennett’s real-life home and the area where the real Mary Shepherd parked her van.
The film would star Maggie Smith (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, “Downton Abbey”, “Harry Potter” films, “Gosford Park”), Alex Jennings (“The Queen”, “Babel”, “Bridge Jones: The Edge of Reason”), Jim Broadbent (“Moulin Rouge!”, “Gangs of New York”, “Cloud Atlas”), Roger Allam (“V for Vendetta”, “The Book Thief”, “The Queen”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Deborah Findlay (“Jane Eyre”, “Vanity Fair”, “Suite Francaise) and more.
The film begins with the sound of a man screaming. The film then cuts to Miss Shepherd (portrayed by Maggie Smith) being chased by the police. She then looks at her windshield which is cracked and has a blood stain on it.
The film then cuts to a pianist (Miss Shepherd when she was younger) playing along with a symphony as the audience watches.
We then watch as Alan Bennett (portrayed by Alex Jennings) is working on his article about Miss Shepherd, who has parked her old, dingy van in front of the driveway of Alan.
We see the two Alan Bennett’s (same person), one who is the writer that is intrigued by Miss Shepherd and the other who is becoming frustrated that her van is parked in front of their house and represents as the Alan that lives in the location.
Alan then begins his story of how he first encountered Miss Shepherd and how she moves into the neighborhood and how a homeless person in the area is received.
But how Alan and Miss Shepherd would communicate for the next 15 years as she would continue to live in her van in the neighborhood. And would get to learn more about Miss Shepherd and her past.
“The Lady in the Van” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). The lossless soundtrack showcases the details of the closeup of Maggie Smith’s face, the dirt and rainmarks on Miss Shepherd’s vehicle. Skin tones are natural, lighting is well-done, although the film leads more to a cooler look outdoors, and warmer for indoors.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “The Lady in the Van” is presented in English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Also, in Spanish and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, English – Audio Description Track Dolby Surround.
The lossless audio for “The Lady in the Van” is primarily dialogue and musical driven and both are crystal clear. Surround channels are primarily for ambiance around the neighborhood, the slamming of Miss Shepherd’s car door.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional) French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.
“The Lady in the Van” comes with the following special features:
- Feature Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Nicholas Hytner.
- Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd – (6:20) A featurette about how this role was written for Maggie Smith.
- The Making of Lady in the Van – (13:43) A discussion about the real Miss Shepherd and Alan Bennett discusses the real person that inspired the film.
- The Visual Effects – (7:29) A featurette about the visual effects (used to create the two Alan Bennett characters).
- Deleted Scenes – (4:34) Featuring three deleted scenes.
- Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “The Lady in the Van”.
“The Lady in the Van” comes with a slipcover.
For those who have appreciated the work of Maggie Smith, “The Lady in the Van” features a wonderful performance by the legendary actress.
Based on the true story written by Alan Bennett about his personal experience and communication with a homeless woman who sets up camp right near his home, the film explores the relationship and friendship between the two people.
Alan Bennett’s character is broken up in two roles (same person), as one represents Alan the writer, writing an article on Miss Shepherd, while the other is an Alan Bennett that is growing frustrated by Miss Shepherd and doesn’t understand why the writer can’t give up on her and let her leave to another location.
Alan find the woman intriguing because of the way she talks and promotes herself, yet has become homeless.
Who is Miss Shepherd? What led her to his neighborhood? And why has Alan continued to help Miss Shepherd?
We watch as the two communicate with each other and the storyline starting out early as compassion and then letter transitioning into wanting to help Miss Shepherd live a bit more comfortably but to delve deeper into her background.
Maggie Smith and Alan Jennings do a phenomenal job of playing their respective roles. For Maggie Smith, it was more or less playing a woman with mental illness but also playing a person who had a storied past, a person who is on the run, a person who is fearful of society and a woman who has put her trust towards the popular writer. And how Alan Bennett remained patient with her, no matter how difficult she was towards everyone.
Meanwhile, Alan Jennings does a fine job of playing two different versions of Alan Bennett. One who is kind and generous and is a writer, the other who is “the living” one that is more questioning the thinking and perspective of the writer. And these two are often exchanging conversations of criticism and debate towards one another
But the onscreen chemistry between Smith and Jennings was enjoyable to watch but also to see the storyline unfold. The acting is wonderful, but it’s the storyline that I found very interesting. And the fact that the film was shot in the same location and same home, plus the fact that Alan Bennett was involved in the film was a major plus.
The Blu-ray release features wonderful detail while the lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and musical score. The film also features audio commentary and a few short featurettes as well.
Overall, “The Lady in the Van” is an entertaining and endearing film but also a film that showcases a magnificent performance from Maggie Smith. Recommended!
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