Vera Drake

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            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 find it.”

            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. 

Vera is 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. 

All goes 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 human complexities.  


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