Published Nov 01, 2004Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is a happily married mother and housecleaner with a sprite-like face and a demeanour as bright as the mantles she scrubs. When not tending to her family, she makes the rounds of '50s London, moving from one squalid place to the next, spreading good cheer to the poor and ill alike. Occasionally, she makes her way to some rundown, out-of-the-way flat equipped with another set of tools: a metal grater, soap and a hose-syringe. Always kind, especially to the oft-frightened women she encounters, Vera moonlights at a job of an entirely different and unexpected kind: she is an abortionist.
Writer/director Mike Leigh's (Naked, Secrets and Lies) ability to expose the pain and beauty inherent in working class life has always marked him as a unique filmmaker but what makes him and his films great is his ability to focus his films away from the issue and onto the individual. When a patient nearly dies after one of Vera's procedures, the police bust in to arrest her during a family dinner. Unaware of her second vocation, the ensuing drama that unfolds is as gripping as it is tragic in its circumstance. But what might have been relegated to soap opera is lifted to the realm of stirring human drama through the intimate artistry of Staunton. She paints a compelling canvas with Vera that, come Oscar season, will be difficult to ignore.
Leigh, for his part, does not meddle with the portrayal by moralising. Known for his improvisational style of writing, he allows Staunton and her fellow actors to completely immerse themselves into their parts to the point of utter seamlessness. Superbly acted, beautifully detailed and deceptively powerful, Vera Drake never makes the mistake of turning its story into a political debate. Vera performs abortions simply because, as she repeatedly says, she wants to help other women. It's a statement that in any other movie by any other director would sound like condescension but comes off here as proof of Leigh's deep feeling for this character.
In a year marked by movies that pounded us over the head with the issues, it is nice to see a movie in which humanity carries the day. (Alliance Atlantis)