Vera drake is a selfless woman who is completely devoted to and loved by her working class family. However in her secret life she secretly visits women and helps them induce miscarriages for unwanted pregnancies a practice... more » which was illegal in 1950s england. Studio: New Line Home Video Release Date: 03/29/2005 Starring: Imelda Staunton Peter Wright Run time: 125 minutes Rating: R« less
Jean W. from JORDANVILLE, NY Reviewed on 1/22/2013...
an interesting, off beat different kind of movie well worth watching more than once. Great acting.
Edgar R. (edgarshoe) from CALEXICO, CA Reviewed on 5/19/2010...
Was everything I expected, and I liked it. It obviously does get you thinking about the laws at that time and even today. It makes you wonder how fair the outcome was. Imelda Staunton was excellent. Everything I have seen her in, she's been amazing, funny, mean! greta actress!
Tarra S. (thesaintmom) from PIEDMONT, SC Reviewed on 10/25/2008...
Very dark movie. I loved it because you cannot tell where it is going. A nice change!
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Great movie; Astonishing Lead Performance
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 11/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Let me state this categorically: there is no finer performance by an actor this year than Imelda Staunton in Mike Leigh's VERA DRAKE. In fact, if there is any justice in the world at all she should easily win the Oscar for Best Actress. Unfortunately, there is not always justice in the world, especially when we come to Oscar time, and Hollywood often gives the award to a less deserving but locally more popular actress. But if we are focusing merely on quality of performance, Imelda Staunton this year is in a class of her own. In fact, this is not merely the finest performance this year, but one of the very best performances I have ever seen. The last time I was this impressed by a performance by an actress was, perhaps not accidentally, Brenda Blethyn in Mike Leigh's SECRETS AND LIES, a performance that won for Ms. Blethyn every acting award for which she was eligible, except for the Oscar (Frances McDormand won for her excellent but less impressive effort in FARGO).
Let me go a step further: I know of no director working today who consistently manages to coax amazing performances out of his cast. Every single one of his films are littered with amazing demonstrations of acting excellence, and this one is as remarkable in that way as any of his prior films. Except for Staunton, there is absolutely no point in singling out individuals: every actor is perfect for their part. Clearly one reason Leigh manages to get such great jobs out of his actors is the fact that he writes some remarkable screenplays. Invariably, even in a somewhat splashy production like TOPSY-TURVY, Leigh constantly keeps the focus on the individuals. Most directors attempt to do this, but almost all are too impatient to get on with the story to slow things down and give the actors room to project anything like real life emotions. Leigh's patience with scenes is one of his greatest assets, and the sheer power of this film frequently comes from his being willing to allot a scene all the time it needs. In scene after scene, I kept thinking while watching this how a lesser director would have squandered the opportunity by rushing on to the next scene.
Not only is the acting and direction in this film very close to perfect, the sets are among the most realistic one could hope to find. The film is set entirely in 1950, and absolutely nothing betrays the illusion.
Of course, little of this would matter much if there were not a story worth telling, and this one is unique. Vera Drake is a good, good-hearted woman, one who obviously radiates good will, kindness, and compassion for everyone with whom she comes in contact. The first half of the film contains countless scenes in which Vera is the spiritual glue that holds her family together, a fact that makes the final shot in the film so forceful (I'll not give away the end by explaining further). Hosts of people depend on Vera for the way she holds the social fabric of their lives together. She seems to be without a bad bone in her body. Above all, she is a helper. She helps her family, her neighbors, her mother, and girls with special problems. She is someone whom the police would call an "abortionist" (a term she adamantly rejects for the description "I help girls who need help"). Vera helps without pay poor, working class women in early first term pregnancies for whom for whatever reason bringing a child to term will be a great hardship. She does this by the injection of a lye soap solution that she injects with a rubber syringe, causing the fetus to abort a day or two later.
The film makes a contrast between the many poor women Vera helps with another abortion that an upper class girl (her father works in the Ministry of Defense), who becomes pregnant when she is raped early in the film. I think it is a credit to Leigh that he does not trivialize the class situation by making the upper class girl's pregnancy a lighthearted thing. In fact, the sheer agony the girl feels is one of the heartbreaking things in the film, the mere confession to the psychiatrist (who is necessary to recommend a legal, hospital abortion on the grounds that having the child would be psychologically dangerous) that she had been raped was gut-wrenching. The point is not that either rich or poor girls get pregnant for casual or serious reasons, but that Vera is the only recourse they have. In a home where a woman has seven children that they can barely feed as it is (these were the days before effective birth control), Vera is a bit of a savior.
Eventually, one of Vera's procedures goes wrong, and the mother of the girl hesitantly confesses to the police that Vera is the person who performed the abortion. They investigate, find out where she lives, and interrupt and engagement party to arrest Vera. Again, the strength of Leigh as a writer and director can be seen in his refusal to dehumanize the police, making them cruel villains. In fact, throughout the scenes with the police what is most impressive is how kind they are in performing their duty to the full extent. It is obvious that while they are intent on arresting an abortionist, they obviously like Vera, can sense what a good person she is.
In the end, the film identifies no villains. Vera is obviously not viewed as one. There is a condemnation of social hypocrisy that provides a service to a rich girl but not a poor one who has just as little need to bring a child to term. Perhaps a legal system that criminalizes attempts to give a woman some control over her biology. Clearly those who possess a patriarchal worldview that would prevent all voluntary ending of pregnancies will identify Vera as a villain, but even they should be able to sense the deep dilemma she feels. Those opposed to choice will sense as strongly as the police that Vera is not a monster, but one who truly is trying to help others.
Post-Oscar Addition: Though Staunton's performance was light year's beyond Hillary Swank's solid but definitely less spectacular job in MILLION DOLLAR BABY, she failed to win the Oscar, as I feared. She must take some consolation that in absolutely every article I read on "Who Ought to Win" as opposed to who probably was going to win, the critics universally agreed that Imelda Staunton's performance was clearly the finest performance of the year. No doubt many felt that her mere nomination was sufficient reward--it was not, after all, by any means a box office success, and still has not been released in many parts of the United States--but I keep fantasizing about a time when quality is recognized as quality. There is the added fact that many and perhaps even most Academy voters didn't even see VERA DRAKE. When they finally do, I'm sure there will be some embarrassment that they voted for Hillary Swank's very good but not truly great performance instead of this absolutely heart stopping one."
Angel of Mercy
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 10/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As you watch Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) go about her daily life, bringing cheer and kindness everywhere she goes, you wouldn't think that she also is "someone who helps young girls in trouble." But director Mike Leigh has incorporated these procedures into Vera's life so naturally that they seem like just a small part of the overall good she does in her life: "I help young girls who have no where else to go," she says. Vera is a sturdy woman with a big heart and a strong back: she's a housekeeper for a rich local family, she corals lonely newcomers into her house for tea and she looks after her husband and family with as much dedication and love that she can muster. But she also is inordinately concerned about the unwed mothers who flock to her for a solution to their problem. And when one almost dies, Vera's life is torn apart. The look on Staunton's face and the deep, deep hurt and concern in her eyes as the police take her to jail is heartbreaking. And, more to Vera's credit, the concern she feels in her bones is not for herself, it is for her family and particularly her beloved husband: none of whom know anything about Vera's second profession even though it has been going on for close to twenty years. In any event, you will not soon forget this very truthful and emotional scene. We are in Mike Leigh Country (Secrets and Lies) here: the land of middle class English families just after WWII. But "Vera Drake" is different than Leigh's other films in that there are no fingers pointed, no judgments made by the filmmaker. In fact Leigh seems to anoint Vera as an Angel of Mercy, which in these times in 2004 in which doctors who perform abortions are looked at as murderers and sometimes even killed, this film may be a way to get some balance back on this controversial subject. Staunton is breathtaking as Vera: a round fussy, caring concerned ball of energy. But why is Vera so concerned with these young girls and their problem? Could she have had this same problem herself when she was young? And has she taken on this mantle as a way of rectifying something in her past? We don't know for sure and this ambiguity adds an edge to Staunton's performance that only helps to make "Vera Drake" an unusually potent and compelling piece of filmmaking.
An Emotionally Wrenching Film - Superbly Acted & Directed!
Jana L. Perskie | New York, NY USA | 06/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I add my voice to the swell of others who have acclaimed Mike Leigh's powerful period piece, "Vera Drake," as an extraordinary film. Writer-director Leigh, ("Topsy Turvy," "Secrets and Lies"), is one of the most consistent forces in cinema today, and seems to have a magic touch with his actors, especially when working with morally complex drama. Imelda Staunton, as "Vera Drake" gives one of the most brilliant, and accomplished performances I have seen by an actor on the large screen, and her role is an emotionally wrenching one. The subject matter of this 1950's based drama is highly controversial - abortion. Yet, as difficult as the material is, Leigh and Ms. Staunton are able to make some powerful statements without taking a position. Leigh doesn't delve into the morality aspect of the issue. Instead he explores how the disclosure of Vera's illegal acts impacts the lives of the people who care for her and depend upon her.
Vera works hard as a domestic servant in post WWII London. A tiny woman, she is a bundle of energy and optimism who exudes warmth and compassion. With great sincerity, she unstintingly gives of herself and her time to help others. She continually looks in on family and neighbors, especially the elderly and infirm, to make sure they have what they need. Vera is the backbone of her family, which includes her adoring husband, Stan (Phil Davis), son Sid, (Daniel Mays), a tailor who fancies himself a man about town, and daughter Ethel, (Alex Kelly), a timid factory worker. Vera is their hearthstone, and the person who truly lights up their lives, a solid presence, full of good cheer and the ever present cuppa.
Unbeknownst to those who love her, Vera has been "helping-out young women" for years. She assists them to end their unwanted pregnancies. Vera has never discussed her work with her family, because she sees this as a confidential matter between herself and each woman she helps. I am sure, however, that she is aware of the moral issues involved in her ministries and the social stigma attached to them. The women she treats are from the working class, like Vera, and are either poor and married with too many hungry mouths to feed, or young and unwed. Vera does this work free of charge - and this is important to the storyline. It is implied that she began practicing abortion when she herself became pregnant as a girl and "needed help" herself. She refuses to use the word "abortion" because she does not see that as what she does. The procedure she uses has proved to be reliable and never before caused physical harm to anyone - that is, none of her young women ever needed hospitalization. A supposed friend, who is the middle-person between Vera and these women, has been charging on the sly, saying nothing to Vera, who would not take the fee and would insist on returning it.
Some will undoubtedly look upon Vera Drake as a criminal, others as a voice of hope in the wilderness. What is always clear is that she is sure that she is working for the good. However, when the police become involved, Vera finds herself in serious trouble with the British legal system. An element critical to the story, is that Vera has almost caused a death, and she is devastated when she learns of this. The police are not portrayed unsympathetically, however, although those who judge Vera and the law, itself, appear to be the villains here - at least this is the way Leigh writes and directs the film.
There is an interesting side story which runs parallel to Vera's. The daughter of one of her wealthy employers is raped. She has no idea that the woman who scrubs her Mum's floors can help her, and so goes to a "society doctor." With clearance from a psychiatrist, she is able to obtain an abortion in hospital, illegal though it may be, with no fuss at all. She has the money handy, 100 pounds, quite a bit more than a working girl would ever have at one time, and money and social position, (her dad works for the Defense Ministry), are what it takes to make things happen.
Ms. Staunton, credibly transforms herself from a jaunty, cheerful, loving woman to a bent, aged, depressed and very humiliated person in a matter of hours as the police disturb a family gathering, her daughter's engagement party. Frequently her facial expressions alone communicate a world of words. She won the best-actress prize at the Venice Film Festival, and the film, was named best picture of the festival.
Interestingly, Leigh, who was born in 1943, dedicates the film to his parents, a doctor and a midwife. I am sure he knows and understands the film's subject well. JANA"
Startling and intelligent
Jonathan S. Kemp | Omaha, NE United States | 02/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For all of "Vera Drake's" admirable qualities--brisk pacing, great acting, intelligent writing--its most laudable quality is the way it broaches the difficult subject of abortion. Writer/director Mike Leigh tells an important human story in "Vera Drake"-the story of an initially happy middle--class British family in the 1950s--while using abortion as a means to explore larger themes of betrayal, disappointment, and perseverance. This is not a movie that is politically safe because it's afraid of controversy; it's politically safe because doing so strengthens the emotional conflicts that Vera Drake and her family must confront.
Vera Drake's life seems simple at first. She has two children; her son, nearly an adult, works as a successful haberdasher, and her daughter, also past adolescence, is experiencing her first amorous relationship. Her husband of more than twenty years is a car mechanic. She stays in touch with nearly everyone in her building complex, caring for sick neighbors and cleaning for others. People respect her and enjoy her company. But Vera Drake has a secret in her life that only one of her friends knows about: she "helps girls out", illegally providing abortions for women who want them.
Her work with girls is painful to watch. When she would arrive at a customer's house, she calmly put on the kettle and told the woman to undress, lie down and wait. Vera works for several women throughout the film; some handle the situation better than others, quietly doing what Vera wants them to do. Others are so overcome by guilt and terror that they tremble and scream and cry. Although Vera never completely explains why she "helps girls out", it's apparent on her face and through her actions that she truly believes an abortion is something a woman deserves if she desires it, something that is necessary and important and justified.
On one hand, I felt that she was providing a service which a woman wanted, a service that could make one's life easier; on the other, her work is bloody, ruinous, loathsome and controversial, and I had difficulty agreeing or disagreeing with what she did. When one of Vera Drake's customers becomes ill (a not too uncommon thing to happen, considering the rudimentary tools used for the abortions), Vera is discovered by the police, for reasons unknown to her family. The tension of the movie lies in this slow revealing of truths. Since Vera's children and husband did not know of her "service"-a service which she had provided for twenty years-they are stunned by the revelation.
The entire film is understated, showing characters who disagree with Vera's choices, and characters-like Vera's husband-who find some kind of good in providing abortions. Seeing from all sides how the Drake family must deal with their unexpected problem allows the viewer to form their own opinion about the issue. It's possible that some people will be utterly repulsed by Vera's actions, happy that she was caught and punished. Others, like myself, will see Vera Drake as a likable human being, a person who had strong, grounded beliefs about what was right and wrong. Regardless of one's fundamental response to the film, be it anger, sadness or understanding, Mike Leigh's ability to evoke such a wide range of feelings is quite an achievement, and a testament to his talent as writer/director of a film about a complicated human experience."
"I help them out when they can't manage."
Luan Gaines | Dana Point, CA USA | 10/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This quietly powerful film tells the story of a 1950's middle-class English family, as it is torn apart by the actions of one woman. Vera Drake, the mother is her family's emotional center. A small woman, with bright blue eyes and always a kind word, Vera bustles through her days doing odd favors for housebound invalids, always making the world a bit friendlier for the lonely souls she meets along the way. But Vera has another side, although even this task is carried out with her usual gentle reserve: Vera helps women with troublesome pregnancies. For years, Vera has visited the women who need her services. Inevitably one girl becomes deathly ill and the police show up on Vera's doorstep just as her family is celebrating her daughter's engagement. Vera instinctively knows why the authorities are there, but has never spoken a word about her activities to her husband or grown children. Devastated over the girl's illness, Vera breaks down, barely able to speak to the inspector or to tell her husband what she has been doing.
Filled with character actors whose faces reveal their every emotion, this film is brilliantly acted, more implied by what isn't said than the damning words of jurisprudence. Imelda Staunton plays a remarkable nuanced Vera Drake, a simple woman, devoted to her family. Confronted by her actions, Vera literally cannot cope with the overwhelming emotions, as though she hasn't thought past her actions. The family is unbelieving, offering various reactions: "It's dirty."; "If you can't feed 'em, you can't love 'em, can you?"; "If she told me I would've put a stop to it." The film makes no judgments, other than the obvious illegality of Vera's actions; the scenes speak for themselves, women preparing for Vera's ministrations, each with her own burden, fear, guilt, a sense of the forbidden, furtively taking Vera into their dank, moldy flats. In contrast, a wealthy young woman has other resources for an unwanted pregnancy, a legal recourse, with a psychiatrist giving approval and a doctor performing the procedure. This one scene points to the vast differences of privilege and poverty.
The cinematography dramatizes the danger and fear, stark images of Vera trudging up and down flights of stairs in dreary tenements, comforting frightened women, working as a domestic in the homes of the wealthy, the inspectors converging on Vera's home, large men, their overcoats flapping, as imposing as a procession of clerics and just as intimidating, although the police treat the woman with every courtesy. Vera Drake is a stunning film, an unbiased look at the 1950's and the somewhat draconian measures of the law, a fascinating depiction of people caught in circumstances that overwhelm them and the measures they resort to for relief. Luan Gaines/ 2005.