The Lady in the Van Blu-ray Review
Charming, funny, heart-breaking and poignant
Sorry, you can't park here.
No, I've had guidance. This is where it should go.
The Virgin Mary. I spoke to her yesterday. She was outside the post office.Life is peculiar, and the characters that you meet as you tread its weary mile even more so. One such character is Miss Mary (or is it Margret) Shepherd. A homeless, erratic, somewhat irascible, domineering, God-fearing lady that lived in a van in and around Camden Town, until the council tried to move her on. As a result writer/actor Alan Bennett allowed her to move onto his driveway for a few months – the stay turned into fifteen years. The enigmatic story of The Lady in the Van is told from Bennett’s own diaries and musings during the time she was camped out and most of what is seen is true. The character is real, the locations are real, the situations are real, her back story (only discovered after her death) is (remarkably) real and this is all brought to realistic existence by those that actually knew her in real life. The result is a hugely charming film that is ‘sweetly pretty’.Alan Bennett is known for his take on life through his writings, and the character of Miss Shepherd is one of his most famous. Originally a stage show (with the same director and principle cast) which ran for months in the West End, it was only a matter of time before it transitioned to the big screen – but only if Dame Maggie Smith reprised her role as the titular character. Thankfully she does and it is with her that the film it a triumph. Maggie is astonishing in the role, filling the character with such pathos with a single look that your heart goes out to her. The real person was far more difficult, but the characterisation along with the film narrative and ensemble cast, shows the human condition through the eyes of those at the time. This is Maggie’s film; it is charming, funny, heart-breaking and poignant and told with such whimsy you cannot help but be bowled over.
Picture QualityThe disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 1.85:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and is Region locked to B.
Detail is very well seen, from close ups to middle distance (not that the film uses many, save the coastal shots); skin has a decent texture (especially Dame Maggie’s cragged and grime filled wrinkles), clothing weaves are apparent (again check out Maggie’s awful garments), while the general knick knacks in Bennett’s house or in the van all hold distinct edges, as well as the street in Camden which is rough enough to scrape your knee on.
The yellow of the van is quite striking against the grey of suburbia
Colour is very natural indeed, with all the primaries coming off with aplomb, greens are particularly well realised with the leafy suburbs, or country lanes having very earthy hues. The yellow of the van is quite striking against the grey of suburbia. Flesh tones are very natural, with Maggie’s dirty features hiding a terrific colour.
Brightness and contrast are set, for the most part, to give decent blacks that add a fair amount of the depth to the image; this is especially true of day shots where there is decent punch too; however, these do tend to grey considerably in night shoots (inside the van has a very shortened frame, for example).
Digitally there are no compression issues, nor is there any edge enhancement, indeed the original print is in pristine condition; all-in-all a terrific little picture.
Sound QualityOnly the one track: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround, and for a film principally about the dialogue there is a surprising amount of envelopment. The surround speakers are used throughout to add plenty of ambience to the soundscape; this is true of street sounds (traffic, weather, footfalls etc.) and really comes into its own in market places where the chatter of patrons in amongst the traders' calls gives a real sense of being there. The score makes good use of the speakers and the surround environment; this is especially true with the piano playing (check out the reverb in the nunnery). Dialogue is clear, concise, sounds perfectly natural and dominated by the frontal array. Effects are numerous and are aimed with pin-point accuracy. Bass is, understandably, limited with LF effects being confined to the opening crash and the closing ascension, with the sub only filling out the lower end giving a natural feel to the piece.
ExtrasAudio Commentary – With director Nicholas Hytner and is a leisurely listen; Hytner having been intimately associated with the cast and crew, knew the real Miss Shepherd and lived in and around the area when she was alive, not to mention directing the stage version of the film, is, as you can imagine, a wealth of information about the production, cast, locations and the real situations that went into crafting the story narrative – a gem of a listen.
The Making of Lady in the Van – Brief fifteen minute feature that has interviews with cast and crew (as well as finished material) about the production and some history of the film.
Playing the Lady; Maggie Smith on Miss Shepherd – Culled from the same footage as the above; cast and crew bestow love for their favourite leading lady.
The Visual Effects – How Alan Bennett can be seen twice at the same time, plus the ascension scene.
Deleted Scenes – Three in total, though the commentary alludes to more, of varing length which concentrated on further interactions between Alan and Miss Shepherd; they add little to the finished film.
Blu-ray VerdictThe Lady in the Van is award-winning director Nicholas Hytner’s retelling of the (mostly) true story, penned by Alan Bennett, of Miss Shepherd, an eccentric old lady that parked her van on Bennett’s driveway in Camden Town for what was supposed to be a few months and which ended up being fifteen years! The story of their relationship, Shepherd’s extra-ordinary life and Bennett’s coping with her ways and discovery of himself are told through conversations with himself which drives the narrative forward. The result is an absolutely charming film that explores what it is to offer kindness and how the human spirit is an incredible facet, all delivered in a slightly off-kilter comedic way that belies the tragedy of all concerned. Dame Maggie (who plays Miss Shepherd) is an absolute triumph in the role (actually her third time playing the character) whose sheer dominance of the screen shows a deep sadness behind the joviality and whose eyes actually tell more that any words could. The film is a wonderful little gem.
Dame Maggie Smith is an absolute triumph in the titular role
The disc as presented from Sony is not bad in terms of its package; the picture is bright, detailed, well coloured with reasonable blacks and no artefacts, while the DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound shows a remarkable amount of surround ambience placing you in the centre of the street while keeping dialogue clearly audible throughout. This is backed up by a small but welcome set of extras. Recommended.
You can buy The Lady in the Van on Blu-ray here
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