The incomparable Maggie Smith

The incomparable Maggie Smith

Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs

THE LADY IN THE VAN (Universal). First there was the memoir. Then there was the play. Now there’s the film and Maggie Smith repeating her role and Nicholas Hytner directing. In the theatre there were two actors playing Alan Bennett, the self-deprecating writer and the reluctant landlord and carer.  In the film Alex Jennings plays both roles.  Bennett is as much the subject as the homeless, grumpy, ungrateful, smelly old Miss Sheperd, whom he allowed to park in his driveway and use his lavatory for 15 years.

Sheperd was a bigoted, blinkered, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, rude, carapacic cow and just as grand in her way as the Countess Dowager of Grantham. She never once said thank you. Bennett reserves his bitterest words, however, for the Catholic Church and on Sheperd’s death gives her a send-off worthy of a Renaissance accession painting. Maggie Smith is incomparable on stage and screen.

RIVER (Arrow). I have just caught up with this BBC psychological thriller. It feels like a Nordic film noir (a high compliment) and especially since Stellan Skarsgard is playing River, a detective inspector. His partner, a detective sergeant (Nicola Walker), has just been murdered. But she talks to him and he talks to her all the time. She’s there with him on the screen. “I don’t see ghosts,” he says. “I see manifests.” The six-part series is littered with manifests, not all of them dead.

The gimmick works. Skarsgard is an unhappy man, full of Nordic gloom and guilt, a sick man in desperate need of psychiatric help. He is stalked by another dead manifest, a Victorian murderer (Eddie Marsan). His immediate boss (Lesley Manville), with serious troubles of her own, stands by him. The script is by Abi Morgan who wrote The Hours, The Iron Ladyand Suffragette.

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