Monday, 16 November 2015


The classic British comedy comes up less than classic in Nicholas Hytner's The Lady in the Van. Hytner / Alan Bennett collaborations are a vital part of what the modern West End is built upon; their transference to the screen either fails to explicate what all that fuss is about or, plainly, just fails. Bennett is a marvellous character writer but a substandard dramatist in almost every other regard - it's why Talking Heads is so good, and why parts of The Lady in the Van are too. Another performer in another time might have turned Miss Shepherd into the role of a lifetime, but Maggie Smith already has a fair few of those. She's so brilliantly vivid and bizarre, a showstopping turn of deceptive depth, the kind which requires some careful consideration to fully grasp. The film is cumbersome in fleshing out her history, diminishing Smith's depth by forecasting it with a crudeness that seems designed for the cheap seats, not for the cinema screen. Indeed, the whole film feels on full throttle throughout, seemingly bereft of a level of patience with which this most unique of characters might be better understood. Hytner rather leaves the characterisation to his capable lead, and focuses on overloading his film with forced whimsy - an invasive soundtrack, a bland visual scheme and a few too many cameos, though I did appreciate that as a comedic comment on the British acting A-list, so eager to star in an Alan Bennett production that they'd settle for 10 seconds of thankless screentime.