Director: Mike Leigh | 125 minutes | drama, crime | Actors: Imelda Staunton, Phil Davis, Peter Wight, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly, Eddie Marsan, Adrian Scarborough, Heather Craney, Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins
“Vera Drake” is a powerful and poignant drama about a kind of Mother Theresa in 1950s London, who is being prosecuted for part of her peaceful acts. The act for which she is arrested is performing abortions on women who have nowhere else to go due to lack of money. What she is doing is illegal, so it is not surprising that the police are on her doorstep one day. She herself knows that what she is doing is actually not allowed – that’s why she kept it hidden for about twenty years – but she is not aware of any harm. She just sees this as her civic duty. When confronted by the detective in question (Peter Wight) with her actions, she does not want to accept the term “abortion”. She doesn’t see it that way. She just wanted to help the (pregnant) girls and women, because they were in need.
It is precisely this purity of Vera’s character that makes her fate so regrettable. She doesn’t want to make a political statement, she just wants to help people in need. This is simply in its nature. The way in which she performs abortions differs little in style from the way in which she takes care of her family and local residents. It is almost comical to see them with a smile and a cheerful “here we are!” enters the rooms of the “patients”, as if bringing a cup of tea. It simply has to be done. “Lie here for a while,” dear “”. “In a few days you will be“ right as rain ”again.
The drastic change in Vera Drake’s state of mind from the moment the police arrived on her doorstep is heartbreaking. The family dinner, celebrating her daughter’s engagement, is perfectly enjoyable when suddenly there is a deadly silence at the sight of the police in the room just let in by Vera’s husband. This is an unreal sight in the house of the Drakes. When Vera hears that they are coming for her, she goes away pale. She ends up in a state of shock from which she never fully gets out. She becomes a shadow of the cheerful and vigorous Vera, who until recently traveled all over the neighborhood to help people. She always remains nice and polite, she even calls the detective who comes to charge her “dear”, but you don’t know her again other than this. It is the poignancy of this fact – that this very woman’s fire of life is extinguished in such a way – and the exquisite way this is conveyed by lead actress Imelda Staunton, that will leave the greatest impression on the viewer.
Of course, director Mike Leigh’s indictment of the injustice of the treatment of the poor is important to note. Poor women could not just put some money on the table to be helped by a doctor or specialist with their abortion, but were doomed to (usually unsafe) backroom practices. These kinds of imbalances should be observed and combated at all times, and if the film has a message to be heard, this is it. It is true that the differences between the rich and poor class are somewhat stereotyped, or at least exaggerated. The rich are merely cold, distant and (socially) unreasonable, and the poor are friendly, open, and socialize (which is reflected in the color palette). However, this does not detract from the central story of the film; that around Vera Drake. Perhaps the only problem is that this story is a bit lacking. We don’t see Vera doing much other than helping her local residents and, as part of that, performing abortions. Although this regularity reveals its character in part, there is also the danger that the viewer’s attention will weaken. Fortunately, there is an endearing and amusing subplot about the engagement of Vera’s sweet but timid daughter Ethel, beautifully portrayed by Alex Kelly, who is paired by Vera with Reg (Eddie Marsan), who, like Ethel, is not exactly a big light. In addition, we also spend enough time with Vera’s husband Stan and son Sid, which allows us to get a good idea of their characters. Moreover, the naturalness of the interaction of the family members immediately makes us believe that these are real people, with whom we (sometimes literally) get a look behind the scenes.
Yet the person of Vera Drake, and the tragic events that reduce her to a pathetic heap of humanity, will touch and stay with the viewer the most. But this can hardly be an objection in a movie that bears her name.