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The Lady in the Van - BBC2

Maggie Smith is the lady in the van

Maggie Smith's cranky bag lady is a glorious creation in Alan Bennett's comedy. 4/5 stars

Reprising her stage and radio role, Smith plays the woman who parked her decrepit van in Alan Bennett's Camden driveway in the mid 1970s and didn't budge from the spot until her death 15 years later.

As imperiously rude as a duchess, but considerably less fragrant, Smith's Miss Shepherd is a pungent mix of dottiness and iron will. But there is pathos beneath the eccentricity, with glimpses of a turbulent past as concert pianist, wartime ambulance driver and nun.

A worthy foil for Smith, Alex Jennings plays two cheek-by-jowl versions of her wary host, a bickering double act of Bennett the writer and Bennett the man.

Shot by Nicholas Hytner in the very house and street where the events took place, this hugely enjoyable film also boasts cameos from Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Russell Tovey and Samuel Barnett, who all appeared in Bennett and Hytner's previous stage and screen collaboration, The History Boys.

This film starts at 11.05pm on BBC2 Wales and 11.20pm on BBC2 Northern Ireland.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.