Film Friday: The Lady in the Van

When a lady in a van asks for a push one day, Alan Bennett feel obliged to help out. Little does he know that this will eventually lead to him offering his own driveway as a permanent home for this pungent, inimitable and most unusual lady.

Mary Shepherd has far more of a past than Alan can imagine. But as a writer he can’t help taking notes as he discovers more about her. She is obviously very religious, and he observes her praying one night. He used to pray, he thinks, but not the way she does. She prays with a certain urgency and desperation, but not sadly, with much sense that her prayers are heard and that she is accepted and forgiven.

Alan feels invaded by this persistent woman, but he is also curious. He feels he should help her, but he wrestles with himself about the invasion. She is not nice and polite and middle class like everyone else in the neighbourhood. She comes with not one but two jumble-strewn vans and a huge mountain of grubby plastic bags. Alan is a quiet, tidy, reticent person but little by little he is drawn closer to this unusual woman.

I found this film both funny and disturbing, I could feel that sense of turmoil and invasion as I watched the lady in the van shoulder her way into Alan Bennett’s life. It reminded me too of the times when Jesus brought undesirable and disruptive people into the lives of others. When invited to dinner one day he turned up with a socially unacceptable and ‘unclean’ woman and, like the lady in the van, she caused a rumpus and challenged the worldview of the other more respectable guests. The dinner host in particular was shaken to the core when Jesus pointed out that this strange woman knew more about forgiveness and wholeness than he did. (Luke 7 vv 36-50)

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