THERE are few things more delightful than watching Dame Maggie Smith on the big screen; the octogenarian is always such a sweet, calming presence.
Just when you think she may be winding down in her career, she keeps popping up on the small screen in Downton Abbey and has appeared in at least one film per year for the last eight years.
The quantity of work she has appeared in rivals those of young workaholics Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson.
Bringing a delightful cheekiness, she is the shining light as the mysterious and troubled Miss Shepherd in The Lady in the Van.
After possibly causing the death of a cyclist with her vehicle, Shepherd flees the authorities and parks on the suburban streets of Camden in the 1970s and takes up residence.
The neighbours’ reactions range from accepting to furious, but it is courteous author Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), who despite his unusual relationship with the prickly homeless woman, allows her to park in his driveway, where she stays for 15 years.
The Lady in the Van revolves around Smith.
The script is often sharp and funny and the film itself has a whimsical tone with a dash of audaciousness, but it is Smith who holds your attention.
One aspect that does not quite come together is Bennett’s dual personality; several scenes have him talking to a version of himself in a self-consciously quirky method of character development.
This film is a digestible and enjoyable crowd-pleaser.
The Lady in the Van (M)
Directed by: Nicholas Hytner
Starring: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent
Three and a half stars
Review by: Julian Wright
In cinemas now