Where in the world is “Vera Drake?”
Certainly not in most multiplexes, or in the flood of showcase re-runs
for the Academy Awards, surely not in the conversations of coffee house movie
lovers who can’t find the film. They
may know that Imelda Staunton is nominated for Best Actress, but their reaction
still is, “Where is it? I can’t
Is the limited distribution of this film due to the politics of pro-life
vs. pro-abortion? Is it just too
hot a potato to handle? The movie
frames the debate in the strongest possible terms with Vera Drake (Imelda
Staunton) performing abortions in shabby London rooms.
1950 was a time when abortion was the word never spoken, when girls who
found someone willing to do it often suffered the terrible consequences of
infection and sometimes death. Over
two decades Vera does what she does without charge to “help the girls.” Cases
are given her one at a time by Lily (Ruth Sheen), a cold-hearted cheat who
brings pregnant girls to Vera without telling her she is pocketing the whole
fee. The girls pass into the hands
of the kindly woman who gives them both help and heart.
that rarity – a person compelled by an inner drive to help wherever help is
needed. She stops by to see her
ailing, aged mother, invites sad-eyed neighbor Reg (Eddie Marsan in an endearing
performance) for dinner and listens patiently with appreciative wonder to the
stories of her husband Stan (Phil Davis). Daughter
Joyce (Heather Craney), son Sid (Daniel Mays), and Stan’s brother Frank
(Adrian Scarborough) complete the needy family.
None of them knows about Vera’s other work.
When things get difficult on any level, a little humming and “have a
cuppa,” as she boils the kettle, settle things down.
Nothing stays negative for long around Vera.
well for this quiet woman until she trips over the law with a case gone bad.
Peter Wight’s performance as Detective Inspector Webster is subtle and
lovely. From the political point of view, son Sid is on board to
argue the opposing side of the case, though perhaps not strongly enough for pro
lifers. The whole cast comes slowly
to full life under the direction of the always amazing Mike Leigh.
Mr. Leigh gives his actors no scripts and very little else to go on.
Often with only a verbal summary in mind, they are asked to improvise.
And so the beginning of this movie is characteristically confusing as we
in the audience and the actors in the film struggle to know each other.
Watch the actors become fully realized and engaging of each other as the
film goes on. They settle in as
they become comfortable with their roles. Like
the maypole with its ribbons, Imelda Staunton’s Vera Drake tends to them all
– an honorable woman dedicated to human service who is otherwise bewildered by
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