Wednesday, 21 October 2015

THE LADY IN THE VAN Premiere - A Very Personal Report

On October the 13th, 2015 I arrived at the Odeon Leicester Square quite early and saw the red carpet being rolled out, crash barriers being put up and the yellow van put on display by the entrance (nice touch). It was 2 hours before the show and very exciting to observe as I have never been to a film premiere before.
Then I went for a long coffee and got back at about 6 pm (the show starts 7:15 pm and we were asked not to be late). There was quite a crowd outside the barriers already, looking exactly how I've seen it many times in the various videos from other premieres. I hung around a bit soaking the atmosphere in (it was helped by the bright floodlights and the soundtrack to the film booming across the square). There were two entrances to the carpet: one from the street for the stars who came in cars and another from the square for plebs with tickets.

Nothing has been said anywhere about the dress code for the premiere, so I suppose there was none. Thankfully.
I could see Nick Hytner already on the carpet giving interviews but plebeian entrance was still blocked by security people who said they'll let us in at 6:15.
Next thing I saw was a shining Merc driving into the "star" entrance and Alan Bennett emerging from it slow and tranquil as always. People behind the barriers started to click their phones and cameras, although I'm not sure they all knew who he was. Somebody shouted out for him though, so he went to sign some autographs, looking very fresh in new long coat and his trademark combination of bright green scarf and bright orange tie (suggesting a carrot I suppose). I haven't seen people asking for selfies with him, that would really be something else. Then he was whisked away along the carpet to give interviews with Nick.

Then another car pulled up and out came Alex Jennings with his lot whom people started to photograph too, just in case: they arrived in a car, so they must have been someone! At that moment I thought it was a good time to enter the carpet too. So I went over to the plebeian entrance and after a couple of minutes we were finally admitted in.
I stepped onto the carpet... and my words fail to describe the fantastic elation of suddenly being in a Hollywood dream and that wonderful liberating 'you-are-not-supposed-to-be-here-and-yet-you-are' feeling. Although we were not allowed to muck about on the carpet too much and were asked by the security to get inside the cinema promptly, some people were pausing to take selfies. Then I noticed Alex signing autographs for people behind the barriers and decided to stop by him. I honestly believe I heard him being called out to as 'Alan'.
As for AB himself, he was giving an interview across the carpet surrounded by security people and thus sadly unreachable. So I said Hello to Alex and he said Hello back. He looked absolutely gorgeous in his Burberry and very shining shoes.

But security kept rushing us along, so I had to walk to the end of the carpet and enter the cinema, where it was very dark for some reason. I found my seat and settled into it noticing each seat was equipped with a bottle of water and a chocolate bar. People who felt this kind of refreshments were beneath them could go down the aisle and buy very expensive champagne in very small bottles.
I haven't seen any other stars arriving on the carpet, but according to the pictures from the web at least two of the History Boys were there (Dominic Cooper and Sam Anderson). Maggie Smith arrived late and I guess the screening was delayed because of that. 

Finally when I was ready to explode with excitement and have visited the loo three times, the lights on stage went up and Nick Hytner appeared. He said some words on what we were about to see and then to the tumultuous applause from the audience to the stage came the other heroes of the evening - AB still in his overcoat and then Maggie with Alex (holding hands). They stood on stage for about half a minute, waved to the audience a bit, Maggie now holding hands with AB, and then they all left and the lights went dim again. In almost complete darkness I could see Nick, Maggie, Alex and AB walking up the aisle and disappearing somewhere at the back of the cinema. As I've found out later, Nick & Maggie didn't stay to watch the film and AB & Alex sat in the circle somewhere.

Then after an on-screen announcement from Boris Johnson (he was after all an official supporter of this Gala screening) which induced some giggling and even booing from the audience, the film began.
I won't reveal anything about the film yet although I have plenty to say about it. I'll only say that I have slight reservations about every aspect of it bar one: acting. The acting is superb from everyone, and especially Alex Jennings. He's flawless and he is absolutely able to keep up with Maggie. He gives his best there, every inch of his best. He's doing something with the character which I wasn't sure could be done. Maggie is of course top class too, but we all knew that didn’t we?
Another thrill was that I actually recognized the scene they have been filming the day I visited the set. So in a way I am in the film too, only hidden. I must also say that knowing the play by heart didn't help at all, as I kept noticing all the alterations to the text and it was a bit distracting. People applauded at the end of the film, though not as loudly as I have hoped for. But I was so thrilled and happy I didn't really care. It probably sounds silly and fanciful but I felt so very proud for everyone involved!
People were coming out of the cinema looking quite jolly and some of them lingered a bit waiting for the cast to come out. AB was the first but he went quickly into the taxi and I couldn't see if anyone has managed to talk to him. I'm usually quite good at standing in his way but this time I was so overwhelmed by what I have just experienced that I couldn't think straight. It was easier with Alex, who stopped for quite some time to talk to people and sign stuff. On the spur of the moment I hugged him and said he was 'a fucking triumph' to which he trademarkly replied 'it's a good one isn't it' and he seemed very pleased with all the praise people kept giving him. He'd make a fair Hollywood star.

And then it was suddenly over. On my way to the hotel (and on cloud nine) I was thinking of how we first heard about the idea of the film and all the excitement building up as more news were coming in and me visiting the set and seeing all the pictures and trailers and how it gradually became a reality and now I have seen it and at that moment I couldn't be happier.
Now almost a week has passed, and I still haven’t quite recovered. But that’s Alan Bennett for you, his art always hits me hard, so “that’s slightly to be expected”. Miss Shepherd doesn’t want to let go. I'm still there on Gloucester Crescent with all of them.
My film of the year, my film of the decade and one of the most important films of my life.

PS: I also must add that the next morning I went to see it again and without all the hype I was able to concentrate more and it was even better. It was actually very close to a masterpiece.

PPS: sorry for my lousy pictures, but I was so excited my hands shook a bit. I promise to do better next time! For now let's just say they are exclusive.

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