Cast: Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, Eddie Marsan, Anna Keaveney, Alex Kelly, Daniel Mays, Phil Davis, Jim Broadbent
Director: Mike Leigh
Rated: M adult themes
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Wife. Mother. Criminal.
Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) lives with her husband (Phil Davis) and their two adult children, Sid and Ethel (Daniel Mays and Alex Kelly) in post war London. Vera is the picture of motherly love, nursing her mother and neighbours, cooking, cleaning and taking in suppertime strays. However unbeknownst to her family, Vera also spends her working day helping girls who "find themselves in trouble".
In telling Vera's story and the impact her actions have on those around her, director and writer Mike Leigh not only captures the drama of ordinary life but raises a series of complex moral and social issues for the audience to ponder. So much of 'Vera Drake's' resonance and ultimate success lies in the detail, the believable, densely populated social environment that Leigh and his actors have created, full of humour, sharp observation and ultimately, humanity.
Vera Drake is the dearest sweetest person played so wonderfully by Imelda Staunton. Vera is part of a post-war family in the late 40's, early 50's, that is not particularly wealthy, yet she is happy going about her daily life humming away and spending hours helping and looking after others. She has her own secret life, helping young women who find themselves pregnant yet without the financial backing to seek a legal abortion. Vera is their saviour who seeks no remuneration and helps because she believes someone has to.
'Vera Drake' is initially set up with various situations where we see Vera busily helping others, cooking, cleaning, as well as looking after her own family including her aged mother, who are all oblivious to her double life, as well as her paid work as a cleaner to some of the wealthy. Vera's answer to everything is to put the kettle on for "a nice cup of tea". She seems so obligingly innocent. Contrast to this is a parallel story where the daughter at one of the houses where she is paid to clean, finds herself pregnant and is able to seek an abortion through the highly expensive legal channels. It is this dissimilarity that Vera's "job" as helping the girls who "find themselves in trouble" is shown to be just another necessary part of Vera's life.
Eventually one of the girls that Vera has helped almost dies from complications and Vera is found out. She is arrested during an engagement party for her timid and mousy daughter Ethel, and taken to the local police station, charged, and then the court cases of her charge are dealt with. It is during these scenes that Staunton displays the most incredible emotions that almost defy description. The pro/anti abortion issue is not dealt with; this is a case of presenting just one aspect of unwanted pregnancies. The conclusion was perhaps abrupt and left wanting but that is a minor hiccup. Attention to detail throughout is meticulous and although slow initially, 'Vera Drake' is a powerful emotional journey made so fascinating by Staunton's intensity and brilliance.
Rating : A-