My most recent MOVIE WEEKEND DVD review was of The Lady In The Van. Because the lady was a real person and the man whose driveway she inhabited is a real person and a writer, I want to give you some background on Miss Shepherd.
If you haven't yet seen the movie and don't want to encounter possible spoilers, then please don't read this post.
The Lady In The Van began as a 1999 play by Alan Bennett. Maggie Smith played Mary Shepherd--as she does in the film--who parked her van in Bennett's driveway and ended up staying for fifteen years. Bennett, played by Alex Jennings in the movie, adapted his play for the 2015 film.
Bennett gradually learns that Miss Mary Shepherd is actually Margaret Fairchild, who had been a gifted concert pianist. She tried to become a nun but her confessor told her she was not allowed to play the piano. She had a breakdown, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped in her van, which was hit by a motorcycle, but she thought the accident was her fault and she fled. From then on, Fairchild believes she's hiding from the police, and she's regularly fleeced by a retired police officer played by Jim Broadbent.
In reality, it was only after "Miss Shepherd's" death in 1989 that Bennett learned from her brother who she was. He allowed her to move her van from the street into his driveway because she was often terrorized by passersby, though he admits that the move was because of his own selfishness; that is, the bother to Miss Shepherd interrupted his work. After her van was in the drive for a time, she took up squatters' rights and would not and could not be moved.
Bennett first wrote her story as a long article, then a novella, and then the successful play. Behind the relationship between the comical timidness of the Alan Bennett character in the movie and the often hilarious pushiness of the Miss Shepherd character lies an indictment of Great Britain's failure to care for the homeless and the mentally ill.
As quoted on the Internet Movie Database, "At the Hay Festival on 27 May 2015, screenwriter Alan Bennett said 'The story told by this film took place 40 and more years ago and Miss Shepherd is long since dead. She was difficult and eccentric but above all she was poor. And these days particularly the poor don't get much of a look in. Poverty is a moral failing today as it was under the Tudors. If the film has a point, it's about fairness and tolerance and however grudgingly helping the less fortunate, who are not well thought of these days. And now likely to be even less so.'"
The film was shot in and around Bennett's former home. The one character in the film that Bennett acknowledges to be fiction is Underwood, the former police officer who threatens to reveal Miss Shepherd's whereabouts and thus demands bribes from her so she loses the bit of money she has.
Bennett also admits to inventing Miss Shepherd's inner life of the mind.
I like the movie very much, although it has some strange moments that, of course, did not occur. For example, when Miss Shepherd dies, she is resurrected for her ascension to Heaven. I haven't seen that happen to anyone in quite some time.
Perhaps I'll be next. Prepare for liftoff.
Infinities of love,
|Maggie Smith with the real Alan Bennett|