Union Give Alan Bennett Dual Personalities in The Lady in the Van
The Lady in the Van tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years.
Although the it doesn’t sound like a visual effects movie, they are an absolutely crucial component of the film. The story was a play before a film and the writer wrote two versions of himself, Alan Bennett, to help illustrate the story - Alan Bennett the writer who sits at his desk and writes and AB the disgruntled landlord who has to deal with the consequences of Miss Shepherd’s occupation of his driveway. Translating this to film it was felt that one actor (Alex Jennings) should play both role - no mean feat.
To enable one actor to play two characters on screen simultaneously, Union shot split screens with essentially two camera set ups.
“For the first set up Alex Jennings would play Alan Bennett, whilst his double George played AB and then in the second camera set up they would swap places and Alex would play AB, whilst George played Alan Bennett.” explains VFX Supervisor Merv New. “Then in post we would painstakingly cut out George from the shots and replace him with the Alex, leaving a single frame with two Alan Bennetts in the same shot.”
Kevin Loader, Producer adds: “Alex Jennings had to play both AB and Alan Bennett and that required a lot of very, very skilful visual effects and Union delivered.”