The film is a wonderful little gem
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. This enigmatic story 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 would come to the Silver Screen – but only if one Dame Maggie Smith were to reprise her role as the titular character. Thankfully she does and it is with her that the film it a triumph. Smith 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 Smith’s film; it is charming, funny, heart-breaking and poignant and told with such whimsy you cannot help but be bowled over. The fact that what you see mostly happened is quite extra-ordinary and makes for a very enjoyable ride.
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