Category: British Movies

The Lady in the Van (2015 Movie)

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Let me preface this review by stating that the British do make quirky movies.  You can put The Lady in the Van into the very quirky category.  Believe it or not, it’s a true story that had been told previously in a book form and on stage.  Alan Bennett, the author, tells of his relationship with the homeless (except for her van) Mary Shepherd. Wonderful and talented Maggie Smith has played this role both on stage and film.

The story centers around an elderly woman who drives a dilapidated van. She favors Alan’s neighborhood and moves the van from house to house early in her arrival.  The neighbors tolerate her presence and attempt to be kind, offering her food and the like, but she’s undoubtedly the most cantankerous old lady you’ll meet.

Alan is a bit of an oddball himself in this story.  He’s a playwright by trade, and you see him much of the time writing about this fifteen-year experience with Mary (or maybe it’s Margaret – nobody is sure).  In his own oddball way, he has a double of himself in the storyline – the one who lives life – the other who writes about life. Alan is also dealing with his aging mother as the story unfolds.

Mary Shepherd is an interesting character herself, having lived in her youth as a gifted pianist. Twice she attempts to become a nun but the church doesn’t believe she’s nun material. When an accident happens in her van years before, she is plagued with the belief that she had killed someone. The guilt sends her down a spiral hole of despair from which she never recovers.

Lady in a Van is an interesting character study, set in a very small portion of London with occasional visits elsewhere. There is plenty of screen time with her van that eventually ends up parked in Alan’s driveway for the period of fifteen years. Maggie Smith’s costumes consist of filthy clothing and a pigsty of a location, but she shines as usual with her talent.  You may, however, find the role a bit shocking and beneath her abilities from the grand Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey to a grungy, grumpy, and stinky old lady. However, since Maggie has owned this role in the past on stage, I dare say she was the only one to do it justice on film.

In the end, it’s the story of where life can take an individual. As an elderly woman, she appears to have no more worth than the rags she wears. Nevertheless, underneath all the filth is a woman who was once revered and applauded.

The Winslow Boy (Movie 1999)

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Tucked away in the archives of past movies that I have enjoyed (as well as a post sitting in the draft stages for two years), comes a gem of a movie – The Winslow Boy.  Available for streaming on Amazon at this link The Winslow Boy.  If you love period drama, with lighthearted bantering between a male and female with opposite views, you will enjoy this look into an Edwardian family faced with a conundrum.

The Winslow Boy was originally a play, apparently inspired by a true story.  Ronnie, a young cadet in school, returns home expelled for stealing a five-shilling postal order. His father, played by Nigel Hawthorne, is a retired bank executive.  The household is a comfortable home that also includes a wife, a daughter who is a suffragette, and an older son at Oxford.

The crux of the story revolves around one point – did the child steal the postal order or not?  Ronnie’s father who is a firm and moral individual, pulls his son aside to get at the heart of the matter.  Ronnie, played by Guy Edwards, is reminded by this father, “A lie between us cannot be hidden.” The boy’s answer to whether he stole the note is insistent: “No, Father, I didn’t.”

Without an ounce of suspicion the boy is lying, his father mounts his son’s defense by hiring Sir Robert Morton, a top-notch attorney in London. However, it does not come without a huge financial price to the entire family, which includes the loss of personal items being sold to fund the case, servants being let go from employ, and the elder son being brought home from Oxford – all for the sake of clearing Ronnie’s name. The entire affair turns into a public spectacle as well. Everyone, including Sir Richard Morton, sacrifice to defend the boy.

jeremy_northam_rebecca_pidgeon_the_winslow_boy_001However, underneath all the legality of the issue lies a witty and fantastic bantering between Sir Robert Morton and the suffragette daughter, Emma (played by Rebecca Pidgeon). As male and female, they are at the end of the spectrum politically.  Emma is engaged at the beginning of the story, but as the case becomes more publicly embarrassing to her fiance, they part. Emma really is attracted to Sir Robert, but she doesn’t admit the fact to anyone, even herself I think. Neither does Sir Robert, played by the dreamy Jeremy Northam in his younger years, speak his true feelings, though he regards Emma with yearning each time they meet.

How does the case end? Well, I’ll let you find out and give no spoilers.  However, it is the iconic last lines that leave its audience with hope these two opposites find love. I should have liked to see a sequel.  Oh, wait, maybe I can write one!

Sir Robert Morton: Oh, you still pursue your feminist activities?

Catherine Winslow: Oh yes.

Sir Robert Morton: Pity. It’s a lost cause.

Catherine Winslow: Oh, do you really think so, Sir Robert? How little you know about women. Good-bye. I doubt that we shall meet again.

Sir Robert Morton: Oh, do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men.

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