Playwright Alan Bennett has met with some success in his career and decides to buy a new house in Camden Town. Before he is fully unpacked, he sees an old woman in a beat up van looking for a parking space. The people in the street know her, but would prefer that she not park in front of their house. Alan is a nice guy and Mary, the old woman in the van, senses his weakness and instantly takes advantage of him.
The story is told my two Alans, one the Writer and one the Man. They often argue with each other and the Writer often reminds the Man that if he had a more interesting life they wouldn’t have to be so interested in the old woman. There are two old women as well. Alan’s Mother and Mary.
Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings get the bulk of the screen time playing Mary and Alan. Jim Broadbent has a small role and James Corden makes a cameo appearance. The rest of the cast is very good, a lot of familiar faces.
Alan’s neighbors all assume that once the old woman has her van in Alan’s drive, it’s just a matter of time till she moves into the house. But Alan has enough backbone to keep her out of his house, except for her use of his toilet. We see him go through a decontamination process after one visit. It’s mentioned at every turn that she is a disgusting presence who smells very bad.
The Lady in the Van is a wonderfully detailed story about how one event altered the course of Mary’s life, and ultimately Alan’s as well. It’s an odd relationship. Mary lives in his driveway, but Alan goes on about his life ignoring her as best as he can. Mary notices that Alan has a series of random men coming and going and tells Alan she knows what’s going on. Alan nods and says, oh yes? Yes, Mary says, they’re Communists.
There are lots of little jokes, like the neighbors talking about how Alan only writes about himself, which does seem to be the case in The Lady in the Van as well.
In the end, it appears that Alan and Mary put up with each other for the fifteen years she lived in his driveway. Alan never wanted to be thought of as her ‘caregiver’ and Mary certainly would have been insulted to think that she was in need of a caregiver.
I really liked The Lady in the Van. It’s a great movie.