Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast and crew documentary. Trailer.
HAVING won two of the top awards at the Venice Film Festival,
Mike Leigh's 1950s-based abortion drama, Vera Drake, must rate
as one of the early contenders for Oscar success, particularly
given the quality of its central performance.
As the eponymous 'do-gooder', Imelda Staunton provides an astonishing
portrayal of the middle-aged, working-class woman, who 'helps
young girls out' when they get into trouble.
Although her methods may be crude - and depicted in an unflinching
manner - her motivations are honest, and she genuinely believes
she is performing a service to the many young girls she visits.
Hence, she takes no money for the abortions and remains oblivious
to the fact that her scheming friend (Ruth Sheen) does profit
Rather, her determination to help is born out of something far
more personal, and which becomes apparent as the movie unfolds.
Surrounding Vera, in the post-war London in which she resides,
is her beloved family, consisting of her doting, kind-hearted
husband, Stan (Phil Davis), their charismatic son, Sid (Daniel
Mays), and their painfully shy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly), who
Vera contrives to set up with her equally reserved neighbour,
Reg (Eddie Marsan).
Yet just as it seems everything is falling into place in the
family's lives, one of the women Vera helps suffers complications
and is rushed to hospital, narrowly cheating death.
The ensuing police investigation leads back to Vera and her happy,
unassuming existence is shattered.
Yet, true to character, her biggest concern is for the impact
the revelations will have on her family, and she is too naive
and shy to use her arrest to make any sort of stand on behalf
of the women who require abortions.
Leigh's film, while taking its time
to unfold, offsets Vera's plight with that of the daughter of
one of Vera's wealthy house-cleaning clients, Susan (Sally Hawkins),
who is forced to seek a costly, medically-sanctioned abortion
after she is date-raped.
What ensues, is a painfully honest and heart-breaking depiction
of a family torn apart, and an inherently good, well-meaning woman,
being destroyed by the rigid and inflexible laws of the day.
As Vera, Staunton delivers a tour-de-force, expertly capturing
the character's transition from chirpy, proud mother, to confused
and terrified 'criminal'.
Her wounded expressions and tear-drenched look of worry are vividly
depicted and one can't help but feel sorry for the hopelessness
of her predicament.
What's more, her sympathy is achieved without the need for any
heavy-handed sentiment from Leigh, who dodges the temptation to
moralise or preach to his audience.
Instead, the film takes the form of a gripping character drama,
with those affected by Vera's illegal crusade delivering equally
compelling turns into the bargain.
Davis, as Vera's loyal husband, is particularly effective, as
he tries to hide his own personal disappointment with a need to
stand by his wife, making the scenes between the two characters
While Peter Wight's sympathetic detective inspector and Mays'
angry son also register strongly, capturing their mixed sentiments
Needless to say, Vera Drake does not make for easy-viewing and
the film is a tremendously bleak and depressing affair that casts
light on how dramatically morals and attitudes to sex and abortion
have changed in such a relatively short space of time.
As such, it will struggle to find the big audience it deserves,
even though the approaching awards season might yet provide both
Leigh and Staunton with their place in the spotlight that they