Vera Drake

An amazing, heart-wrenching performance from Imelda Staunton couples with an at-times frustratingly simple script to form Vera Drake, Mike Leigh's not-so-subtle pro-choice movie. The fact that it ardently supports abortion is not that big of a deal, but the way that Leigh (All or Nothing, Topsy-Turvy) portrays everything in stark terms of black and white detracts from what could have been a better film. Still, Staunton (Bright Young Things, Crush) is riveting to watch on screen, even when there is not much else going on, which is for a lot of the time. Vera works as a maid in dreary 1950s industrial England. She and her family get by, but it's clear that they are a member of the have-nots.

Very few people have any idea that Vera performs abortions on the side. She has a sunny, unflappable personality at all times, beaming at her family and friends. It seems like her cure for any sort of ill is a fresh cup of tea. She tries to set up the local single men with her daughter, and always has something pleasant to say. The same holds true when she comes in contact with young women who need her services. She is gentle, reassuring, and in and out of there in a flash, a stranger who renders her services and then disappears quickly into the night. A friend of hers sets up the times and places for Vera to go, and then charges a fee unbeknownst to Vera. This same 'friend' charges Vera for sugar and other goods.

In fact, Leigh goes out of his way to show the corruption and hypocrisy of the people around Vera. A rich girl is able to get a sanctioned, safe abortion inside a hospital, yet the poor women who cannot afford this need to somehow get to Vera. When the law catches up to Vera, she is thrown in jail. This is the emotional center of the film, where Staunton's understated performance shines. Vera honestly believes that she is helping these girls. If it were not for her, they would have nowhere to go to. It is heartbreaking to watch Staunton slowly come to the realization that she has been caught. She accepts it reluctantly, as if deep down, she knew that this was an inevitability.

The revelation is just as shocking to her family, who cannot fathom her involvement in something like this. Leigh has painted Vera as a saint, the only thing missing is a halo. This also means that he portrays the police as brutish and uncaring. All of the women who need abortions are helpless and sympathetic. It is not too complex, and Leigh never tries to hide where his own sympathies lie. As a message movie, Vera Drake fails because it is so lop-sided. However, he does an interesting job of capturing the lower class and the struggles they must go through in order to simply live.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 5 minutes, Rated R for depiction of strong thematic material.

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