This is the “mostly true story” of the relationship between Miss Mary Shepard and Alan Bennet in the 1970’s. She is an eccentric woman who lives in her van and he is a writer in Camden Town, London. Mary moves around the town, parking her van wherever she can until something bothers her or she gets a ticket and she moves again. She has asked him to park her van in his driveway for a short time and it turned into a little longer than he expected.
THE LADY IN THE VAN is directed by Nicholas Hytner who is best known for directing CENTER STAGE and THE CRUCIBLE. Alan Bennet, the other main character, wrote the book, screenplay, and he is played by Alex Jennings. The story is told from his perspective as the narrator of his two personalities: the one who lives and the one who writes. The one who lives is the part of him that experiences the outside world and interacts with everyone in it. The one who writes takes notes and records of his experiences on paper. It gave the character a little more dynamic as if he had a twin brother rather than talking to himself. It also allowed for some comedy when the writer would tell the other that he was making this part up or embellishing.
Mary Shepard is played by the incredibly talented and elegant Maggie Smith. She played the role in 1999 and already had a lot of experience before bring the character to life on film. She can take a role and completely make it her own, which makes sense considering she has been acting since 1955. In this film, she completely steals the film with her off personality and funny personality. It’s clear that she is never in her right mind but she always thinks she is right and she is never afraid to let people know. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and I’m surprised she didn’t get the win.
-Maggie Smith as Miss Mary Shepherd/Margaret Fairchild
-Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett
-Roger Allam as Rufus
-Deborah Findlay as Pauline
-Jim Broadbent as Underwood
-Cecilia Noble as Miss Briscoe
-Gwen Taylor as Mam
The video is a 1080p AVC transfer.
The film has a beautiful transfer. Being set back in the 1970’s, the movie has that vintage feel. First off, the details are sharp, showing every single detail. This is especially noticeable in the brick walls of Camden and lines in people’s faces make it easy to gauge a character’s age. As for the skin tones, they are natural except where the filmmakers were looking to show Mary’s condition. Also, the clothing is brilliant with oranges and yellows that leap off of the screen. Sony Picture Classics typically make excellent looking Blu-rays and definitely succeeded here.
The main audio track is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.
The movie has a very robust audio mix for being dialogue-centric. There is plenty happening in each channel but the majority of the work is in the center channel. The effects are recreated well but the standout in the audio is the score. It is strong and has beauty in the way it helps with the tone of the film.
-Audio Commentary: Director & Producer Nicholas Hytner
-Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd: This featurette has some of the cast and crew discussing Maggie Smith and her tremendous skills in bringing the character to life.
-The Making of The Lady in the Van: This featurette goes over with the actors and Alan Bennett himself about making the film. They had so many real experiences with Mary Shepard and she became rather famous.
-The Visual Effects: This featurette shows how some of the visuals like putting the two versions of Bennett on the screen flawlessly.
1 Blu-ray Disc
1080p AVC MPEG-4
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Thai Dolby Digital 5.1
THE LADY IN THE VAN is definitely up there now as one of my favorite Maggie Smith films. As I mentioned, she just gave this character so much depth and after finding out she played this character on stage for a time, it makes sense that she embodied the role. The Blu-ray has great video transfer and audio, especially in the score. The bonus features are a little light and I would’ve like to learn a bit more about some of the experiences from the cast & crew. As a whole, I definitely recommend this movie whether giving a rent or purchase.