Alan Bennett's story is based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (played by a magnificent Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins who "temporarily" parked her van in Bennett's London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favor becomes a relationship that will change both their lives. Filmed on the street and in the house where Bennett and Miss Shepherd lived all those years, acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with iconic writer Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys) to bring this rare and touching portrait to the screen.
There are a few films a year that fly under our radar, due to a very limited release or lack of word-of-mouth. I always try to see these films, because every once in a while, you come across a true gem with great characters, performances, and a memorable script. This is the case with 'The lady in the Van', which stars Maggie Smith in a true-life story of a woman named Mary Shepherd.
The film certainly didn't have a wide-release, and although it was praised by critics and had good word-of-mouth, most people don't know about it. Those who saw the film know that 'The Lady in the Van' is an honest and endearing film about not judging a book by its cover and helping out your fellow neighbors. None of the dialogue or film itself feels cheesy or overly-done, but rather takes a simple approach with some comedy to tell this amazing story.
Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith) lives in a raggedy old van that she paints bright yellow. Yes, she's homeless, eats out of the garbage, and hasn't bathed in quite a while. Nobody really knows who she is, and those that cross paths with her, turn their nose up and avoid her. She befriends a guy named Alan (Alex Jennings), who is a writer that lives in a nice neighborhood in London. He allows Mary to park her van in his driveway for a while, and she ends up living in his driveway for fifteen years.
The two spark a relationship as Alex slowly realizes that Mary isn't Mary Shepherd at all, but rather someone who used to be a prominent woman with money and friends, whose life has had more than one difficult obstacle that put her in the position she's in. Through some charming and funny moments, we get a glimpse of how Mary ended up in a van, and how Alan chooses to take care of her. Director Nicholas Hytner uses a slow burn approach to reveal the secrets that Mary hides, but it's with Maggie Smith that film flows at a steady pace.
As usual, Smith throws herself into this character, and it's fascinating to watch her come to life. This is truly a great film for Maggie Smith and still proves that she is one of the best performers still out there today. Alex is a good co-star too, helping find the normal balance between a posh existence and a homeless one. The film is never preachy, yet in meanders here and there, instead of staying on track. That being said, the message is loud and clear in a simple and elegant way, and of course Maggie Smith shines like always.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Lady in the Van' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc that is Region A Locked from Sony. There is no insert or download code here. The disc comes in a hard, blue plastic case that is housed in a cardboard sleeve.
'The Lady in the Van' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The whole image looks beautiful in this digitally shot feature. The detail is rather sharp and vivid in both wide shots and closeups. The British setting looks amazing with a ton of detail in the weathered brick and stone that cover the houses. You'll be able to make it out the vegetation and imperfections in the buildings quite easily.
The van itself shows the wear and tear and every piece of damage it has sustained over the years. Nothing looks flat. The wardrobe shows every stitch and piece of dirt as well. Facial lines, wrinkles, and makeup blemishes show up nicely in closeups as well. Colors are realistic and natural, and tend to have a more earthy tone with some deep browns and greens throughout. Black levels are consistently deep and inky, and the flesh tones are always natural. There were no major issues with any banding or aliasing, leaving this video presentation with great marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and sound very good. You won't have a big action piece here, so don't expect a ton of explosions or gun shots from the rear speakers. In fact, this is more of dialogue driven film where most of the audio is focused on the front end of things. There are a couple of moments when the sound is full and robust, but other than those couple of instances, this is an elegant, dialogue driven track.
There are some nice ambient noises of the city and country life here with nature sounds and vehicle noises coming through nicely. Dialogue is crystal clear and always easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, or any other issue. Again, this is not a heavy action soundscape, but rather a pleasant audio experience that is well-balanced and layered, in that every nuance can be heard.
Audio Commentary - Director Nicholas Hytner talks about making the film, the true life story that inspired him, casting, the characters, the themes, and some anecdotes from the shoot. It's a good listen for any fan of the film.
The Making of 'The Lady in the Van' (HD, 14 Mins.) - This is your better than average behind the scenes, although brief, that covers casting Maggie Smith, the real life people the film is based on, interviews, and the locations used.
The Visual Effects (HD, 8 Mins.) - Here you will see how how the visual effects were implemented for one of the characters in the film.
Trailers (HD, 8 Mins.) - The trailer for the film is here, along with other Sony titles.
'The Lady in the Van' is a charming and elegant film about not judging a book by its cover. Maggie Smith deserves an award for her performance, as this simple tale about inner beauty comes to the forefront. It's a very satisfying film. The video and audio presentations are both great and the extras are all worth watching, leaving this little gem of a film highly recommended!