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--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.