The Lady in the Van


The Film

The Lady in the Van is a 2015 British comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner, written by Alan Bennett, and starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. It tells the true story of Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lived in a dilapidated van on Bennett's driveway in London for 15 years. Smith previously portrayed Shepherd twice: in the original 1999 theatrical production, which earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards; and in the 2009 BBC Radio 4 adaptation.

Hytner directed the original stage production at the Queen's Theatre in London, while Bennett adapted the screenplay from his 1999 West End play of the same name, which was nominated at the 2000 Olivier Awards for Play of the Year. The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s, before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild (died 1989), a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.

Cinema Trailer




The Lady in the Van was greenlit on 3rd June 2014, TriStar Productions and BBC Films working together to make the film adaptation of Alan Bennett's West End hit. TriStar won the film rights to handle worldwide distribution, while the BBC will be the first to show the film on television in the UK. The involvement of Maggie Smith and Nicholas Hytner was announced simultaneously with the film, but they were attached to the project as early as 9th May (coincidentally Bennett's 80th birthday). Both of them had collaborated with Bennett in the past; Hytner on The Madness of King George in 1994, and the film adaptation of The History Boys (in 2006), while Smith had portrayed Miss Shepherd in the original theatre production in 1999, and again in a 2009 radio adaptation by BBC Radio 4.


Principal photography began at 23 Gloucester Crescent in North London in October 2014. The film was shot in and around Bennett's old house in Camden Town, where the real Miss Shepherd spent 15 years on his driveway. According to Hytner, they "never considered [filming] anywhere else", and it was "entertaining to see the look on all the residents’ faces", many of whom "were there when the van drove down the crescent". Filming was a difficult experience for Smith because she spent "most of her time confined to one van or another". The van "wasn't the most comfortable" of places, and the film was "much more concentrated" than the play; the stage version "was more physically demanding", but Smith admitted it was a "long time ago" and she "could handle it" back then. She joked that "not a lot of method [acting] was required when you were dressed as [she] was, and in a van".

The production crew filmed for two days in November 2014 in Broadstairs in Thanet, Kent, notably Viking Bay, featuring Morelli's Gelato and the Palace Cinema. Producer Kevin Loader described Viking Bay as "the perfect location" and said the area had benefited by £40,000, as the 50-strong crew stayed locally and took advantage of the various restaurants and bars. Broadstairs was the only filming location outside London.


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
Frances de la Tour as Ursula Vaughan Williams
Nicholas Burns as Giles Perry
Pandora Colin as Mrs Perry

The principal cast of the film of Bennett's The History Boys, appear in cameo roles, with the exception of de la Tour, who has a more prominent role in the film; and Richard Griffiths, who died in 2013. This includes: Samuel Barnett (as Donald), Samuel Anderson (as a Jehovah's Witness), Stephen Campbell Moore (as a doctor), Dominic Cooper (as a theatre actor), James Corden (as a street trader), Sacha Dhawan (as Doctor Malik),] Andrew Knott (as an ambulance driver),] Clive Merrison (as a man attending confession), Jamie Parker (as an estate agent), and Russell Tovey (as a man with earrings).


The film's score consists of classical music by Chopin and others; some additional music was composed by George Fenton. It was released as a soundtrack album through Sony Classical Records, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment, on 6th November 2015 in the United Kingdom and 11th December in the United States