The Lady in the Van by Nicholas Hytner

Article by: Elisa Cocco

Translation by: Chiara Toscan

Mary Shepherd (wonderfully interpreted by Maggie Smith) is a lively elderly woman who lives in her dear old smelly van. She wonders around the streets of London, seeking for a safe place to live, until she get to Camden Town, an inner district in the north of the city. Here, people prove to be kind to her, especially when she settles with her van, despite the smell it brings in front of their homes.

The comedy writer Alan Bennet (interpreted by Alex Jennings) has just bought a house in the neighborhood and immediately notices the presence of the battered van, parked in the lane, and the eccentric woman who inhabits it.

When on-street parking becomes forbidden, Miss Shepherd finds herself without a place to park her van, and the writer, a restrained but kind man, invites her to settle temporarily in his driveway. However, the provisional arrangement becomes permanent: “I was supposed to stay here for three months, but I ended up staying fifteen years!” says Mary at the end of the film while laughing out loud; years in which their beautiful friendship develops, even including arguments and misunderstandings, just like an old married couple.


In Nicholas Hytner’s film there are two versions of Alan Bennett: one who lives his life, and the other who writes about it. The story is mostly true and is about an author who struggles with a creative block while trying to find himself. But the film is also the story of a friendship which turns an unknown vagabond into “one of the family”.

Presented at the festival’s section “Festa Mobile”, The Lady in the Van is adapted from Alan Bennett’s play and his autobiographical book. The writer, who is also the screenwriter of the film, played a walk-on part in the final scene.

The Lady in the Van is a pleasant film that leaves place for reflections while teaching to look beyond appearances, because behind the clothes (or the smell) there is always a hidden story.


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