Thursday, 13 December 2018

Maggie’s gone from ‘Countess’ to ‘Lady’

IF you’re lamenting the end of Downton Abbey and a regular chance to savour Dame Maggie

IF you’re lamenting the end of Downton Abbey and a regular chance to savour Dame Maggie Smith’s acerbic dowager countess on your screens, fear not.

Although she is playing a character at the opposite end of the social spectrum, it is guaranteed that the shabbiness of her clothes will have no impact on her brilliant comic timing.

Starring Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett, The Lady in the Van tells the true story of the writer’s strained relationship with Miss Mary Shepherd (Smith), an eccentric house-less woman whom Bennett befriended in the Seventies before allowing her to temporarily park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years.

After inviting herself into Bennett’s house to use the bathroom, she proved impossible to budge.

Despite her testy nature, the neighbourhood quickly warms to her particular brand of charm, and she eventually becomes the heart and soul of the community.

Maggie Smith has played the crotchety Miss Shepherd twice before — in the original 1999 theatrical production, which scored her a best actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards, and in a 2009 Radio 4 adaptation.

Oscar buzz is already being generated around this film as Variety, Hollywood Reporter and the New York Post have all tipped Dame Maggie as a “strong bet” for the best actress statuette.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner, this film is in safe hands. No stranger to Bennett’s work, Hytner has previously directed film adaptations of his much-loved plays The History Boys and The Madness of King George.

All the hallmarks of a Bennett play are here: it is funny, poignant and life affirming. Frances de la Tour, Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam and James Corden make up this all-star British cast.

A charming and quintessentially British comedy, this offers an insight into the life of one of the nation’s favourite dramatists.

The Lady in the Van is at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse from today (Friday).

Review: Zoe Lord

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