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TriStar Partners with BBC on Bennett and Hytner's 'Lady in the Van' with Dame Maggie Smith

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 3, 2014 at 4:43PM

In Hollywood there are always exceptions to the rule. Like, women, especially older women, can't open or carry movies. So, in the face of such misinformed conventional wisdom, TriStar Productions' Tom Rothman is greenlighting "The Lady in the Van" with "Downton Abbey" and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" star Maggie Smith, age 79. That's because Smith is an actress who wins Oscars
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Maggie Smith in 'Downton Abbey'
Maggie Smith in 'Downton Abbey'

In Hollywood there are always exceptions to the rule. Like, women, especially older women, can't open or carry movies. So, in the face of such misinformed conventional wisdom, TriStar Productions' Tom Rothman is greenlighting "The Lady in the Van" with "Downton Abbey" and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" star Maggie Smith, age 79. That's because Smith is an actress who wins Oscars--she has won two out of six nominations so far ("The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "California Suite"). TriStar won worldwide rights to "The Lady in the Van" in a bidding war. BBC Films will co-finance and take the first television window in the UK.  

"The Lady in the Van" is playwright and screenwriter Alan Bennett's adaptation of the London hit based on his memoir, and reunites him with his director on the films "The Madness of King George" and "The History Boys," Nicholas Hytner, who makes his return to movies after a decade running the National Theatre. Smith will reprise her stage role for the big screen as Miss Shepherd, an eccentric woman who parked her broken-down van in Bennett’s London driveway and then stayed for the next fifteen years.  Alex Jennings ("The Queen)" will star as Bennett and his alter ego, AB. 

Damian Jones ("The Iron Lady") and Kevin Loader ("Venus") will produce along with Hytner. Miles Ketley and Charles Moore are executive producers. Principal photography begins in October in London, with a planned release in the second half of 2015. 

Rothman and Hytner worked together on four of his five films (Bennett's "Madness of King George" and "The History Boys," Wendy Wasserstein's "The Object of My Affection" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," starring Daniel Day-Lewis) but Hytner has made his name in theatre directing such hits as "Miss Saigon," "Stuff Happened," and "One Man, Two Guvnors."  At the National, he commissioned "Warhorse," "The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night," "Jerry Springer, The Opera" and "Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein." 

This marks the third TriStar film greenlit so far by Rothman, following "Ricki and the Flash," directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Diablo Cody, and starring Meryl Streep, and Robert Zemeckis’ untitled film based on Philippe Petit’s memoirs "To Reach the Clouds," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte LeBon and James Badge Dale.

This article is related to: Maggie Smith, TriStar Pictures, In The Works, casting


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.