Tom Rothman’s TriStar Productions has joined with BBC Films to greenlight The Lady in the Van, Alan Bennett’s adaptation of his commercial and critical West End hit, based on his own bestselling memoir. Dame Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey,” the Harry Potter franchise) will reprise one of her most-loved stage roles for the big screen, under the direction of Nicholas Hytner.
The film tells the true story of Miss Shepherd, an eccentric woman of uncertain origins, who “temporarily” parked her broken down van in Bennett’s London driveway and proceeded to live there for the next fifteen years. Smith, who will play the singular Miss Shepherd, will be joined by Alex Jennings (The Queen), who will play both Bennett and, with some movie magic, his alter ego, AB.
The film will be Hytner’s first directorial outing after ending his successful decade as the head of the British National Theatre. He and Bennett previously collaborated on the films of Bennett’s The Madness of King George and The History Boys. Damian Jones (The Iron Lady, Belle) and Kevin Loader (Venus, In the Loop) will produce, along with Hytner. Miles Ketley and Charles Moore will serve as executive producers. Principal photography begins in October in London, with release anticipated for the second half of 2015.
Bennett, a celebrated playwright, screenwriter, actor and author, is considered a national literary treasure in England. Over the course of his more than 50-year career, he has won, or been nominated for, every major writing award that exists in film, television and theatre, including an Academy Award, multiple BAFTAs, Tonys, and Oliviers.
Hytner, who has made four previous films with Rothman, is among the preeminent theatrical creators of his generation, having directed such standouts as Miss Saigon, Stuff Happened, and One Man, Two Guvnors. At the National, he commissioned the breakout hits Warhorse, The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night, Jerry Springer, The Opera and Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. In addition to Madness and History Boys, his filmography also includes Wendy Wasserstein’s The Object of My Affection and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. He has won multiple Olivier and Tony Awards, and a BAFTA.
“We here in the UK are honored to have the chance to work on this landmark,” said Taylor. “I saw the play myself, loved it, and understand why it and Alan Bennett are so beloved nationwide. Maggie Smith, Nick Hytner, Alan Bennett, and Alex Jennings represent the very best of acting, directing, and writing talent in Britain in fact, anywhere in the world and we are delighted to be working with them to bring this incredible story to the screen.”
TriStar Productions Chairman Tom Rothman added: “‘The Crucible,’ ‘The Madness of King George’ and ‘The History Boys’ are among the films in my career of which I am the most proud. Nick is rarely gifted and the chance to work with him and Alan again is sweet indeed. They make brilliant things. And Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings bring such intelligence to glorious life.”
Hytner stated: “My collaboration with Alan Bennett has been at the centre of my creative life and this true story is perhaps his most compelling and remarkable. Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings are two of Britain’s greatest actors, and they like Kevin Loader and Damian Jones are old colleagues. And it gives me particular personal pleasure to be working again with Tom Rothman, my longest standing friend in the American film industry.”
Jones and Loader said: “It’s a huge pleasure for us to be one of the first films on TriStar’s slate. We’re looking forward to working with Tom Rothman and all his Sony colleagues to bring Alan’s fabulous script to a worldwide audience.”
TriStar won the film rights in a competitive situation and will distribute worldwide, with the BBC taking the first television window in its territory, and making an additional investment in the negative. Peter Taylor, Managing Director, Sony Pictures Releasing International (UK), met with the filmmakers and outlined plans for the UK market, where the property is iconic.
(Photo Credit: WENN.com)