After playing the same part in an acclaimed West End play version, Dame Maggie Smith has agreed to take on the title role in the upcoming adaptation The Lady in the Van. Based on the memoir by Alan Bennett, the film will center on a woman named Miss Shepherd (Smith), “an eccentric woman of uncertain origins, who ‘temporarily’ parked her broken down van in Bennett’s London driveway… and proceeded to live there for the next fifteen years.”
Alex Jennings, known best for his roles in The Queen and Babel, is set to play the Alan Bennett character, while Nicholas Hytner is attached to direct. Hytner previously helmed The Madness of King George, The Crucible and The History Boys for TriStar Productions, which is behind The Lady in the Van. The studio’s founder, Tom Rothman, said of the project:
“‘The Crucible,’ ‘The Madness of King George’ and ‘The History Boys’ are among the films in my career of which I am the most proud. Nick is rarely gifted and the chance to work with him and Alan again is sweet indeed. They make brilliant things. And Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings bring such intelligence to glorious life.”
If you want to learn more about The Lady in the Van, you can check out the plot summary for Bennett’s memoir, courtesy of Amazon’s Jerry Brotton, below:
Life imitates art in ‘The Lady in the Van,’ the story of the itinerant Miss Shepherd, who lived in a van in Alan Bennett’s driveway from the early 1970s until her death in 1989. It is doubtful that Bennett could have made up the eccentric Miss Shepherd if he tried, but his poignant, funny but unsentimental account of their strange relationship is akin to his best fictional screen writing.
Bennett concedes that “One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation”, but as the plastic bags build up, the years pass by and Miss Shepherd moves into Bennett’s driveway, a relationship is established which defines a certain moment in late 20th-century London life which has probably gone forever. The dissenting, liberal, middle-class world of Bennett and his peers comes into hilarious but also telling collision with the world of Miss Shepherd: “there was a gap between our social position and our social obligations. It was in this gap that Miss Shepherd (in her van) was able to live”.
Bennett recounts Miss Shepherd’s bizarre escapades in his inimitable style, from her letter to the Argentinean Embassy at the height of the Falklands War, to her attempts to stand for Parliament and wangle an electric wheelchair out of the Social Services. Beautifully observed, ‘The Lady in the Van’ is as notable for Bennett’s attempts to uncover the enigmatic history of Miss Shepherd, as it is for its amusing account of her eccentric escapades.