Parents' Guide to

The Lady in the Van

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Maggie Smith is unforgettable in (mostly) true dramedy.

Movie PG-13 2015 104 minutes
The Lady in the Van Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 3 parent reviews

age 13+

The humanity of the homeless with a British sensibility

Maggie Smith showing off her acting chops once again! Alan Bennett has included key components that address liberalism and the what happens to those that artists that now become gentrifiers. How do you deal with homelessness when it is on your doorstep, or in this case in your driveway? Smith and Jennings are both well cast and have good chemistry. And this film's gentle plea with addressing homelessness and the humanity of those that are unhoused captures the British sensibility well.
age 14+

Misleading trailer leads to disappointment

The language warning given in the other parent review here is excessive in my opinion. There's one use of "f***ing" (which was altered to "bloody" in the DVD version I watched) and occasional, contextually appropriate use of "s***". I'd say there are worse things to be concerned about with this film. I've rated it for 14+ because it requires maturity to really understand the point of the story. Younger kids are just going to think it's a boring movie about a horrible smelly old lady, and miss all the underlying messages about finding authenticity, purpose and fulfillment in life, etc. Put simply, it's a film for adults. I'm a big fan of Maggie Smith and enjoyed the trailer, but I was ultimately disappointed. There's little in the way of lightness or comedy. Miss Shepherd's past is downright depressing, with plenty of glimpses of institutional abuse, especially at the convent she joined as a young nun, as well as law enforcement, social and medical welfare agencies, and even within her own family. Alan Bennett's story isn't much more uplifting, as he deals with his mother's decline into dementia, his not-entirely-closeted homosexuality, and the struggles of finding success as a playwright and actor. I thought the story was going to be primarily about Miss Shepherd and her funny eccentricities; instead it's a film that is as much about Alan Bennett if not more, given that his character is literally split into two parts that have conversations with each other. (That of itself is not a bad thing, and I discovered later that the film is based on his own memoir which would explain all the navel gazing. It's just not the film I was expecting to see based on the trailer.) On the positive side, the performances are wonderful, and it's a testament to Maggie Smith's talent that she can make such an unlikeable person endearing in her own way. I would say this is a good film if you're in the mood for a character-driven drama. But if you're looking for something heart-warming, light-hearted, or uplifting, give "the Lady in the Van" a miss.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (3 ):
Kids say (3 ):

Smith is a force of nature in her third professional outing as Mary Shepherd, the titular transient woman who literally parked herself in playwright Alan Bennett's life. In a role that you'd swear was written for her -- were it not for the fact that Shepherd did, in fact, exist -- Smith is gloriously curmudgeonly as "Mary," a woman too proud to see herself as homeless (her old van, of course, is her home). When a passerby calls her a "sodding beggar," she yells back that she's "self employed" and Alan is her "neighbor." Smith and Jennings' chemistry is fabulous as they banter and bicker. But she's at her best when she's being perfectly blunt. She isn't a romanticized, kind-hearted homeless woman who's willing to share her sage wisdom about a reversal of fortune; Mary is more likely to bark at someone than to thank them. So when she finally asks Alan to give her his hand, it's a moment of exquisite tenderness and connection between two individuals co-existing on the same property.

As Alan, Jennings plays two roles -- the Alan who lives and the Alan who writes. They dress differently and have distinct personalities, and Jennings is fabulous as both. Fellow British stage and screen veterans Frances de la Tour and Roger Allam appear as Alan's neighbors, who tolerate and occasionally look in on Mary -- but this film is really about Mary and Alan, who quietly observes her life, usually in contrast to that of his own aging mother, who lives in another part of England where he can't just walk out the door and see her. Smith and Jennings are a wonderful match, and The Lady in the Van is a quietly powerful testament to how sometimes it's the unlikeliest of people who make a huge impact on your life.

Movie Details

Inclusion information powered by

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate