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New film for Downton's Maggie

DOWNTON Abbey star Maggie Smith is returning to one of her stage roles in a new film version of Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van.

She will play the title character based on a real-life woman who set up home in a battered van on the writer's north London driveway for many years.

The film will be directed by outgoing National Theatre boss Nicholas Hytner and star Alex Jennings as Bennett.

It is part of a string of new films announced by the BBC ahead of this year's Cannes Film Festival. Others include City of Tiny Lights with Riz Ahmed as private eye Tommy Akhtar, and Pride, a comedy drama about a group of gay activists who support striking miners in 1984.


BBC Films boss Christine Langan said: "Our ambition is to be a creative hub enabling exciting British filmmakers to tell their stories. From Pride at Cannes through to The Lady in The Van, BBC Films nurtures a comprehensive range of films from inception, through production, cinema release and to their eventual home on BBC2."

Other projects include Dame Helen Mirren starring in Woman in Gold based on the real-life story of a Jewish survivor of the Second World War who fought a legal battle to reclaim several paintings by Gustav Klimt that were stolen from her family and Sir Ian McKellen who will play an ageing Sherlock Holmes in A Slight Trick of The Mind.

Maggie Smith's last movie outing was in the sentimental comic drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie as a disparate group of Brits who arrive in northern India to start a new life at a retirement hotel.

All of them have decided they can't face a slow decline in a country they feel has no respect for the elderly. So they come to India, and the promise of a new life at the Marigold Hotel.

But the Marigold's luxury turns out to be aspirational rather than actual: it's really a shabby old dump that trades on former glories and is run on a wing and a prayer by a charming but not entirely competent young man called Sonny.