Mike Leigh's films garner awards all over the world. He coaches terrific, award-winning performances from his actors. And now he's outdone himself with Vera Drake, the best film Leigh has made and one of the best films of this year. Imelda Stanton, in the title role, turns in the performance of a lifetime, and is already an early favorite to be an Oscar nominee.
Set in England in 1950, Vera Drake is the true story of a gentle, modest housewife and cleaning woman who performs abortions for "girls who have gotten in trouble." Vera Drake is a proper, working-class woman of her time. She doesn't use words like womb, pregnant or abortion. That would be vulgar and embarrassing.
Vera shows up at a pregnant girl's apartment armed with the tools of her trade packed in a sensible handbag. She washes up and prepares her materials as though she is baking a nice pie for the family. She is kind and reassuring. She is discreet but not crafty. In her heart and in her mind she is simply helping. She wouldn't dream of taking money.
Vera gets along with everybody. Her domestic jobs, combined with her husband Stan's job at his brother's garage, allow them to live a modest but comfortable life in a tiny flat. Their son, Sid, makes a living as a tailor's apprentice, and their wallflower daughter, Ethel works in a light bulb factory. They are a wonderfully happy and functional family who genuinely love and appreciate one another. When one of them has a bit of good fortune it is a time for rejoicing.
The Drakes are the kind of family with the kind of quintessential English decency that George Orwell praised in his essay, "England, Your England." They are polite and gracious. They dress humbly but are flawlessly groomed. They accept their roles in ...1