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Tag Archives: Roger Allam

The Lady in the Van

Margaret Fairchild’s life is full and wonderfully varied – she loves the piano and is a gifted pianist. As a girl, her parents recognise her talent and she spends time under the tutelage of Alfred Cortot, one of the 20th century’s most renowned classical musicians. Young Margaret even plays Chopin in a promenade concert. As she grows up she hopes to become a nun, but it doesn’t eventuate and her brother commits her to an institution. She manages to escape, but later she’s driving along a country lane when her van is in a motor accident. The motorcyclist involved is badly injured and she believes she’s responsible. From that day onwards she lives in total fear of arrest and takes fright every time anyone approaches her. To “disappear”, she becomes Miss Mary Shepherd (played by Maggie Smith) – and lives in a Bedford van, moving from place to place around London each time the locals become suspicious or too close to her. One day she parks in the Camden street of writer, Allan Bennett (by Alex Jennings), who tolerates her, even when she regularly avails herself of his bathroom and moves her unsightly van into his driveway. He agrees that she can stay “temporarily”, which becomes fifteen years of Miss Shepherd and Mr Bennett barely enduring each other’s presence. This is a true story …

Whilst there is no doubting the strength of Maggie Smith’s performance as the belligerent and eccentric Miss Shepherd, I did find this movie hard going. She plays the ungrateful “Lady in the Van” very well and her character is fascinating, if not frustrating. Also, the script has its very witty moments, but overall the movie didn’t really grab me. Something’s not quite right with it. Alan Bennett’s narrative is told in a double-act – Allan Bennet the writer and Allan Bennet the man – who chat with each other of the frustrations of this woman and what they will do about it, also how writer Allan will develop his book based on the story. The neighbours are typical of the time (seemingly welcoming, but suspicious and eager for her to depart) and Allan’s interactions with the Social Worker, Lois (by Claire Foy) provide an interesting interlude. Miss Shepherd, aka Margaret Fairchild, died in 1989. Overall, the movie is okay, but I would wait until television to see it.

Made in 2015. Directed by Nicholas Hytner.

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Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Book Thief

Liesel Meminger (played by Sophie Nélisse) is a casualty of war. In war-torn Germany during World War 2 she is only 14 years old, when she becomes separated from her mother and brother. She is delivered to the home of Hans Hubermann (by Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Rosa (by Emily Watson) as their adopted daughter. Hans is very gentle with Leisel, but Rosa gives very tough love so Leisel learns very quickly how to steel her feelings against despair and disappointment. Having had very little education due to the war, when she attends the village school she struggles, particularly with literacy. A boy in the village, Rudy Steiner (by Nico Liersch) makes friends with her when he sees she is very new. Hans cares tenderly for Leisel and teaches her to read – from this point on, Leisel finds her joy in the world of books and loses herself in the stories. One day she discovers a vast library in the home of the Mayor and his wife Frau Heinrich (by Kirsten Block) and starts to “borrow” the books. A family friend Max (by Ben Schnetzer), arrives to stay at their home, but he is Jewish so this places huge risk on the family as they must keep him hidden from authorities. Thanks to her love of books, Leisel finds ways to live amongst the trauma and horror in this village during the war and beyond ….

This movie is very nice and Leisel is such a marvellous girl – she evokes a joy in anyone watching who also loves books. The performance by Sophie Nelisse is marvellous and for this work she was awarded with Best Actor wins at the Hollywood Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival and Satellite Awards, no wonder. As Herr and Frau Hermann, the roles played by Geoffrey Rush and particularly Emily Watson are very good too. Emily Watson’s Rosa is such a harridan; she is stoic and stern faced, just marvellous. Geoffrey Rush enmeshes easy but warm tenderness into his gentle character, it’s beautiful to see.  However, for all this, there’s something missing in this movie for me – it could be wonderful, but for me it’s just good. Perhaps it’s that I don’t share the joy of reading that Leisel discovers. It is a dramatization of the novel “The Book Thief” by Markus Zuzak, which is where the narration originates, but to me it’s superfluous – doesn’t add anything either. However, overall it’s quite a good movie.

Made in 2013. Directed by Brian Percival.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Movies

 

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