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The Lady in the Van
  • Composed by George Fenton
  • Sony Classical / 2015 / 58m (score 37m)

Alan Bennett’s memoir The Lady in the Van concerns an old woman who asked to park outside his house temporarily and ended up staying for 15 years.¬† He adapted it for the stage in 1999 where Nicholas Hytner directed Maggie Smith and has now written the screenplay for this movie adaptation, with the same director and star (and Alex Jennings playing Bennett himself).¬† In his youth¬†George Fenton was actually a budding actor and knew Bennett – and in a nice little coincidence, he met the lady in the van herself while he was helping Bennett redecorate his house.¬† Decades later, he’s written the score for the film (as he has for all of Hytner’s previous ones).¬† It’s an unsurprisingly light-hearted affair, witty and elegant and completely charming, qualities all thoroughly encapsulated within the delightful main theme which opens the album, “Miss Shepherd’s Waltz”, a musical embodiment of the funny character at the centre of the story.¬† It’s heard several times, the best and fullest arrangement coming right at the end in “The Ascension”.¬† The second cue “Moving In” introduces a classical tinge with its lovely piano solos (the lady having been a classically trained pianist in her younger days); and the album features music by Chopin and Schubert in addition to Fenton’s score.

If you could imagine the musical embodiment of a dialogue between Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith then it’s pretty much this score.¬† The comic flair is gently done for the most part with occasional exaggerated gestures through florid orchestral touches; and it’s all absolutely, steadfastly English.¬† There are some touching moments too – consecutive tracks “In Care” and “The Neighbours” are just so lovely.¬† There are darker moments – “Collision and Confession” in particular is very sad, with its hints¬†of mental fragility; later “Curtains Down” is ominous and carries a touch of resignation about it.¬† There’s a brief cue late on, “Freewheeling”, which momentarily takes the score back towards Fenton’s marvellous Valiant from a few years back (sadly it only lasts a few bars).¬† The score’s¬†finest moment comes towards the end in “A Sepulchre”, a beautiful piece for piano which plays as a touching tribute.¬† The Lady in the Van really is a delightful little score which ought to bring a smile to anyone’s face – scoring comedy well, writing interesting music for it, is really hard and Fenton has pulled it off with aplomb here.

Rating: *** 1/2

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  1. Addie (Reply) on Monday 28 March, 2016 at 15:50

    Hi James,
    Your review is very thorough. I saw the movie yesterday, and at the end, I felt that I could only decide one thing – that I loved the score. I felt conflicted about parts of the movie. I will go listen for the comic moments of the score that you mentioned, because I wasn’t laughing much as others in the audience were. One day later, I still can’t figure out exactly how I feel about the movie, other than “sad”. But I found the piano music especially lovely!

    Addie