Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Face For The Faceless

This might shock some of you, but I have given up on Downton Abbey. Sorry, sorry to those of you who live on an artistic ventilator from one Sunday to another, but I am afraid I lost interest a couple of years ago, I just got bored. However I have not lost my admiration for the one who is keeping it all together: Dame Maggie Smith, one of Britain's greatest gifts to acting. What conceptual actors take an hour to squeeze out she can do in a moment with one look and you get the message straight away. She's a classically trained English actress, and like all of those who embrace that apprenticeship, she is a master, an actress to her fingertips.

Anyway, this is not a lament for DA, rather a little post to draw your attention to a forthcoming movie which may well be one of Maggie Smith's greatest roles at this stage in her career - the cinematic version of Alan Bennett's brilliant (true) story The Lady in the Van. Maggie plays the eponymous lady who is virtually homeless, living in an old van which she parks in various places throughout the year. A scourge to the denizens of those streets in which she makes her base, Alan Bennett, when he encountered her, invited her to park in his drive for a few weeks - she stayed for fifteen years! However they were fifteen great years for Bennett because they provided him not only with a literary classic, but also a unique relationship that marked his life for the better.

The story is a lovely read, typically Alan Bennett, and it humanises those society often passes over, the people who live on the streets or hidden away seeking warmth and safety in the ruins of our civilization. Miss Shepherd becomes the face for the faceless, and in the encounter with her, when people are bothered to stop, see her and listen to her, they see not just a lady-tramp, but an individual with a life, a story and often an unbearable tragedy. They also discover themselves. And this is the real joy of the story: poor, broken Miss Shepherd is the one who is perhaps the sanest, the most human in the street who teaches those who meet her how to be authentically human themselves.

This is a role made for Maggie Smith, and I look forward to seeing it. Here is the trailer. The movie opens around the middle of November. While you have to be careful about judging a movie from the trailer, this looks good and Maggie's performance seems great - wouldn't it be wonderful if it got her her third Academy Award?

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