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Lady in the Van, The


Stars: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam, Deborah Findlay, Frances de la Tour, Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Marion Bailey, David Calder, Alan Bennett

Director: Nicholas Hytner

A slim but sometimes amusing anecdote, writer Alan Bennett's memoir, here stretched to feature length, centres on a dotty old woman (Smith) who, fleeing from an accident (which she only imagined was her fault), parked her van in the author's North London street and, later, in the driveway of his home, where she stayed for 15 years.

As a vehicle for the formidable Dame Maggie, this has its chucklesome moments, if not enough of them to justify an hour and three quarters in the company of a ragged, smelly old bag who must have driven the real-life Bennett (who briefly appears at the end) to distraction.

'Howe does she go to the lav?' a neighbour asks. 'Something to do with plastic bags,' mutters Bennett (Jennings). 'Stout ones, I hope.'

As the years pass, the writer learns a bit more about his 'tenant's past - as a piano prodigy, and then a nun. But we never warm to her as a character, and the device of Bennett talking things over with his his alter ego - the 'life-liver' as opposed to the writer - is something I was never really comfortable with, while the ending is even battier than the old woman herself.

Best, I would have thought, as a somewhat shortened monologue on radio, preferably read in Bennett's own inimitably dry tones.

David Quinlan

UK 2015. UK Distributor: Sony (Tri-Star). Colour by deluxe.
104 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 08 Nov 2015