October 14, 2015 / 12:36 PM / 3 years ago

Downton dowager Smith in "bruising" role in Bennett's "The Lady in the Van"

LONDON (Reuters) - British playwright Alan Bennett brings his true story of a woman living on his driveway in a battered yellow vehicle to the silver screen in “The Lady in the Van” with Maggie Smith reprising the titular role she played on stage.

The movie, shown at the BFI London Film Festival on Tuesday night, tells the story of the homeless Miss Mary Shepherd, who lived in a van parked in the driveway of Bennett’s home in London’s Camden area between 1974 and 1989.

Eighty-year old Smith swaps her “Downton Abbey” corsets for old-looking and worn clothes to play the role of the eccentric Shepherd, whom she played in the original 1999 theater production — an adaption of Bennett’s memoirs.

“It’s a very taxing part,” Bennett said at the film’s London premiere.

“(Smith) used to say ... it was the most bruising part she’d ever played, literally bruising because she was always being knocked about in the van. I think it’s not been very different on the film really.”

Bennett, who has a cameo role in the movie, said he could now only visualize Smith when thinking of the real Shepherd.

“... Because it’s so long ago now, Miss Shepherd died in 1989, I can only see Maggie’s face,” he said.

“I can’t see Miss Shepherd anymore.”

“The Queen” actor Alex Jennings plays Bennett in the film.

“The nation loves Alan Bennett. It’s a responsibility,” the British actor said.

“The Lady in the Van” hits UK cinemas on Nov. 13 and is released in the United States in January.

Reporting By Helena Williams; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Ralph Boulton

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