When watching a movie, there are some things that are good to reveal about a character right away and some things that should be left toward the third act. How would we respond as viewers, if for example in the movie Psycho, Norman Bates was seen wearing his mother’s clothing and then we cut to the moment when he first meets Marion. It would feel a bit out of place and that is how I felt when I watched this movie.
At the very start, we see an elderly lady driving away from one of the most backwards cops ever to join the force. He makes Lt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad look like Neil deGrasse Tyson. The lady driving is Mrs. Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith) and it’s clear that she has hit someone hard with her van. Even though there is blood all over the windshield, and she drives very slowly, she has no problems escaping from the bumbling cop chasing her. What’s even more confusing is that when the movie cuts to a few years later, we see that she has a new van. Now I’m assuming that she did go somewhere and clean the blood off, but with the way she drives, I’m surprised no one has seen her.
To continue on with the plot, Mary pulls her van into the driveway of writer Alex Bennett (Alex Jennings) and proceeds to live there. It’s never really explained why except for the reason that God told her too. Mr. Bennett’s interest in her is mainly curiosity. She is after all a crazy homeless lady who most likely would make a great character in a book.
There are other people in the town who help Mrs. Shepherd, but I’m not going to bother listing their names since the movie doesn’t give you any explanation on why they would want to be involved in this woman’s life. I understand why Bennett would be involved but not anyone else.
The movie spends a lot of time establishing that Mary doesn’t fit quite in with the residents of the block. There are too many scenes of her doing something out of the norm and then having Alex or someone else respond like. “OMG. She is like behaving in a way that is totally different to our elitist ways. Excellent”. Okay, no one actually speaks like that but they should. It would have made this a lot more enjoyable.
At the end, we get the truth about who Mrs. Shepherd is, but by then I didn’t care. The movie did very little to make me care about this character when she was living in the present. Why would I want to spend more time when her past gets exposed?
The performance that Maggie Smith gives as Mary Shepherd is fun to watch and I enjoyed certain aspects of it. I just wouldn’t make her a main character. The focus really should have been on Alan Bennett. It would have been much better if this movie were told more through his eyes instead.
Yes, it does give us his narration and this was based on a real story by Bennett himself. He even adapted his own screenplay. I just would have liked this better if it was about this writer who finds this eccentric old woman living in his driveway. He has no idea of who she is or what her past is, but through their times together, they each reveal themselves to each other.
The moment when Alan finds out who she really is. This is the part where the accident in the beginning should have been placed. It would help explain her erratic behavior. This would also get me interested in learning more about her past. By placing that scene at the start, I felt there was too much said about this woman. Some things are better left as a mystery.
The Lady in the Van has these special features on the Blu-ray. The Making of The Lady in the Van, deleted scenes, a feature on the special effects, commentary with director Nicolas Hytner, and Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd.