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  •  REVIEW: VERA DRAKE

    Vera Drake

    Vera-similitude

    "Vera Drake" continues Mike Leigh's chronicles of the British working class, this time with an added cautionary element from the time before abortion was legal.

    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
    Offoffoff.com

    For anyone who, like me, grew up in the UK, there's a charming nostalgia to be found in a new Mike Leigh movie. Leigh's observational "kitchen sink dramas" (which include "Secrets & Lies," "Career Girls," and "Life is Sweet") dramatize everyday Englanders going about their daily lives with documentary-like precision — the director often allows his actors to improvise their lines, thus enhancing the overall aesthetic. Audience members not hailing from those fair shores are prone to witness odd, eccentric, and altogether alien-like beings congregated in damp flats, speaking in a completely foreign tongue, and washing away their worries with veritable gallons of tea.

      
    VERA DRAKE
    Written and directed by: Mike Leigh.
    Cast: Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, Eddie Marsan, Anna Keaveney, Alex Kelly, Daniel Mays, Philip Davis, Lesley Manville, Sally Hawkins, Simon Chandler, Sam Troughton, Marion Bailey, Sandra Voe, Chris O'Dowd, Adrian Scarborough, Heather Craney.
    Cinematography: Dick Pope.
    Edited by: Jim Clark.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
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    • Official site
    In his latest film, "Vera Drake," writer/director Leigh captures the milieu of working-class London circa 1950 with bleak, harrowing realism. Vera is the center of this tale — whether it's a true story or not seems barely relevant; one can safely assume a patchwork of like individuals and situations — and as the eponymous Vera Imelda Staunton gives a centered, moreover phenomenal performance.

    "Wife. Mother. Criminal." The film's economic tagline reflects its screenplay's startling efficiency. And while I do the film a disservice to speak specifically of Vera Drake's crime, for the purpose of this review I must. Vera, loving wife to auto mechanic Stan (Phil Harris) and doting mother to tailor's assistant Sid (Daniel Mays) and the homely Ethel (Alex Kelly), wears many hats. In addition to the tried and true role of family matriarch, selflessly willing to forever put the kettle on or whip up a nice spread at the drop of one of those hats, Vera works as a cleaning lady in the homes of the filthy rich, labors in a factory testing light bulbs, looks in on the elderly and the infirm (including her own frail, bedridden mother), and performs D.I.Y. abortions for troubled young girls in the unforgiving neighborhoods of London N1.

    Vera Drake  
    As we come to learn in the film's heartbreaking conclusion, Vera has been performing this service gratis for over 20 years now, sluicing up these poor unfortunates' insides with a soapy disinfectant solution in order to bring about the bleeding. She does this because the young women need her help. She does it out of kindness and compassion. And she goes about this dirty business the same way she goes about all her business: with an endlessly cheery disposition. "Tomorrow you'll be right as rain, love," she tells them comfortingly after concluding the intrusive procedure. But when one girl winds up in the hospital and nearly dies, Vera is arrested and charged under the "Offences Against the Person Act of 1861" for illegally inducing miscarriages.

      Vera Drake
    Soon after, the film just ends, with Vera's devastated family sitting around the familiar tea table minus the woman from whom they've all drawn so much strength. The tragic beauty of this finale is that Leigh chooses not to add any kind of a postscript; there is no preaching, no politicizing, no Roe vs. Wade sidebars or rabid proselytizing. It's just a family torn apart by the removal of one so special, so vital from their midst.

    Leigh's "Vera Drake" is a quiet, law-abiding motion picture that sets no precedents and forces us to draw our own conclusions. And in Imelda Staunton it features one of the most impressive performances of the year.

    NOVEMBER 3, 2004
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Vera Drake:

  • Vera Drake   from Alison Fairgrieve, May 16, 2005
  • Re: Vera Drake   from Voula Papas, Jun 3, 2006
  • [no subject]   from , Dec 13, 2006

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