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The Lady in the Van Blu-ray Review

The Lady in the Van (2015) movie poster The Lady in the Van

US Theatrical Release: December 4, 2015 (UK Release: November 13, 2015) / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Nicholas Hytner / Writers: Alan Bennett (screenplay & memoir)

Cast: Maggie Smith (Miss Mary/Margaret Shepherd/Fairchild), Alex Jennings (Alan Bennett), Jim Broadbent (Underwood), Frances De La Tour (Mrs. Vaughan Williams), Roger Allam (Rufus), Deborah Findlay (Pauline), Gwen Taylor (Mam), Pandora Colin (Fiona Perry), Nicholas Burns (Giles Perry), David Calder (Leo Fairchild), Marion Bailey (Housekeeper at Convent), Cecilia Noble (Miss Briscoe - Social Worker), Claire Foy (Lois - Social Worker), Dominic Cooper (Actor), James Corden (Market Trader)

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Multiple generations have grown up with Maggie Smith being an old woman in major movies they see. Hook and the Sister Act movies made her known to kids of the early '90s and of course Noughties kids would know her as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series.
Fifty years since her first Oscar nomination and sixty since her first BBC television credit, Smith, who improbably turned "only" 81 at the end of last year, continues to act in visible roles, from "Downton Abbey" to two feature films last year. Spring brought The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a sequel not many could have foreseen to 2012's hit geriatric dramedy. Then, the end of the year gave us The Lady in the Van, a film that earned Smith a staggering twelfth Golden Globe nomination (from which she has won three in three different categories).

Smith reprises the titular role in Lady, one she first played in a 1999 West End play and again in 2009 for BBC Radio. In what is billed at its opening "a mostly true story", Smith plays Mrs. Shepherd, an eccentric elderly homeless woman who comes to London's Camden Town in 1970 in a van which she paints a bright, garish yellow. The community tolerates the presence of the pungent Ms. Shepherd, who takes turns parking outside different houses, with the owners' blessings.

In the titular role of "The Lady in the Van", Maggie Smith gives her immobile home a fresh coat of bright yellow paint.

One resident, playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), allows Ms. Shepherd to park her vehicle in his driveway. She will stay there for fifteen years, time allowing the not particularly friendly Bennett to get to know the self-proclaimed "sick woman" better. He learns she was once a nun and a pianist. She still appears to be racked with guilt, turning to prayer and confession on a regular basis. While her home on wheels sits on bags of garbage and draws stares, a mysterious man (a scarce Jim Broadbent) knowing her by another name suggests a dark secret in her past, which is teased from the start of the film but not revealed until the end.

The real Alan Bennett adapts his own stage play in a very British and none too accessible fashion. Smith, who lost the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical to Joy's Jennifer Lawrence, is characteristically good, but the film that houses her is not the best. Bennett makes himself the protagonist and divides the character into the writer and the person (both Jennings), who converse with one another regularly. It's a design that is meant to be whimsical, but as portrayed by Jennings, the film's anchor is somewhat insufferable.

The character of Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), the screenwriter on whose memoirs the film is based, is divided into two parts: the writer and the liver.

You keep waiting for the film to take off, to uncover some profound secrets from Shepherd's past or to let this woman do something that unites the neighborhood and opens her neighbors' hearts. But neither of those things happen. The discoveries are minor and Shepherd remains restless and awkward through the very end.

Appealing to the older generation, Lady in the Van grossed a fairly respectable $9.6 million from just 602 North American theaters. The film hits Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The Lady in the Van Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French, Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, Thai), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 19, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Sony Blu-rays always boast strong picture and sound quality and this one is no different. The 1.85:1 element remains sharp, vibrant, and immaculate throughout, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is consistently crisp, serving the fairly basic sound design well. A number of foreign subtitles and dubs are also included.

The real Alan Bennett numbers only one but discusses the film version of the memoir he previously adapted for stage. Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) doesn't care for Alan Bennett's music in this deleted scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by director Nicholas Hytner.
As someone who lived in Camden Town during the time depicted, he has a unique perspective on the film, the play he directed on which it's based, and the real neighborhood in which the film was shot. His screen-specific remarks are passionate and informative, whether he's commenting on the facts or pointing out appearances made by The History Boys cast members. Still, it's a solo track and one you may grow tired of quickly.

On the video front, where all is encoded in HD, we start with "Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd" (6:22) celebrates the film's lead performance

"The Making of The Lady in the Van" (13:46) lives up to its title with a more general look at production and the real story from which it was born. The usual mix of talking head remarks and behind-the-scenes footage serves this purpose well.

"The Visual Effects" (7:29), perhaps not a topic that springs to mind, details how Alex Jennings was doubled to play the two Alan Bennetts. It also pays notice to and deconstructs the film's few other illusions you might take for granted.

Three deleted scenes (4:24) presenting exchanges between Shepherd and Alan are pretty comparable to what's in the movie and are presented without commentary.

Since this is a Sony Pictures Classics release, the extras conclude with The Lady in the Van's original theatrical trailer (1:58), an always welcome and valuable inclusion.

"Previews" replays the disc-opening trailers for Truth, Grandma, Son of Saul, I See the Light, and Dark Horse.

The basic menu applies score to a static variation on the oddly autumnal poster and cover art. As usual, Sony authors the disc to support bookmarks and resume unfinished playback of anything.

The side-snapped keepcase holds no inserts (Digital HD not included here) or reverse side artwork, but is topped by a glossy slipcover featuring the same artwork below.

Playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) becomes an unlikely benefactor to Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) in "The Lady in the Van."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Fans of Maggie Smith and Alan Bennett and those who saw and enjoyed their stage collaboration on this may wish to give The Lady in the Van a look. It's a showcase for both Smith's acting and Bennett's writing and self-personification, if not an especially compelling or cohesive one. Sony's Blu-ray offers fine picture and sound plus a decent assembly of bonus features.

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Related Reviews:
Maggie Smith: Quartet Sister Act & Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 Richard III Becoming Jane
Alex Jennings: The Queen | Jim Broadbent: Brooklyn Life Is Sweet
Grandma Philomena An Education Made in Dagenham Mr. Turner
New to Disc: Tumbledown

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Reviewed April 18, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Sony Pictures Classics, TriStar Pictures, BBC Films and 2016 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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