Double Feature

October 2019 - They're ba-a-a-a-a-ck! After departing the small screen nearly four years ago, our favorite fictional aristocrats recently resurfaced on the big screen with the movie version of Downton Abbey. I enjoyed the TV show, particularly the scenes featuring the Dowager Countess of Grantham, a.k.a. Dame Maggie Smith.

Several years before Downton Abbey, Smith worked with its future creator, Julian Fellowes, on a feature film, 2001's R-rated Gosford Park. Fellowes co-write the script with director Robert Altman. The star-studded cast includes Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ryan Phillippe.

The film is set in the 1930s. Gambon plays William McCordle, who has gathered friends and relatives, including his sister (Smith), to his English estate for a shooting party. Upstairs, Scott Thomas is the wife. Downstairs, Mirren is the matron who keeps the household running smoothly and the other servants in line. But, someone spoils the party by killing Sir William. Who? Why? Secrets will be revealed!

Overall review: Liked it. Mirren is good, and Smith revels in the same sarcasm she would later serve up in Downton Abbey. Worth watching if you have a couple of hours to spare.

In The Lady in the Van, Dame Maggie gets about as far away from polite society as one can. She plays a homeless woman who parks her van in the driveway of a playwright and pretty much stays there. Alex Jennings plays the playwright, Alan Bennett, who wrote the script for this PG-13 film from 2015.

As the movie opens, we see Smith in a nun's habit. She's behind the wheel of a van that has obviously hit something. She then succeeds in giving a copper the slip. Fast forward to the 1970s, and Miss Shepherd (Smith) and her van are hanging out in the upwardly mobile Camdentown section of London, where playwright Alan Bennett has just bought a house.

Bennett's neighbors tell him that Miss Shepherd moves her van from house to house. Soon enough, he finds it outside his house. Eventually, the van is towed away. But the resourceful Miss Shepherd somehow scrapes together enough money to buy another van, and she convinces Bennett to let her park it in his driveway on a temporary basis.

That temporary basis turns into 15 years, during which time Bennett argues with himself about just how much he should involve himself in Miss Shepherd's life. Mostly, he lets her be, but he is curious enough to try to find out just who this woman was before she became Miss Shepherd.

Overall review: Ehhh, it was OK. I remember seeing previews for this in the theatre and thinking it looked like a "must see." Well, I never got around to seeing it in the theatre and that's OK. The film had some good scenes, but they didn't quite come together as a whole. I could never figure out how much time had passed, and I could never figure out how Miss Shepherd managed to afford a "new" van and a TV. At one point, we saw her selling pencils. I guess she sold a lot of them.