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“Vera Drake Review ”


written by jayscandal on 10/01/2005

Vera Drake Review
by Joshua Morrall


Set in 1950s Islington, Vera Drake is the woeful tale of a simple, working-class woman. Between cleaning houses for the rich, looking after her mother and ill neighbours, Vera (Imelda Staunton) finds time to help young mothers abort their unwanted babies.

Mike Leigh directs in his usual, relaxed manner, enveloping the central debate in a mix of bittersweet moments, finely crafted characters and carefully arranged scenes. The film's most prominent strength lies in the realism of the characters and the depth of the performances. Richard Graham as Vera's husband George is a delight to watch, igniting many of the film's comic moments, the hidden treasure in most of Leigh's films. Alex Kelly as Ethel, the daughter, is an incredible piece of casting, mirroring Vera not only in appearance but in her semi-senile, blank-faced lethargy.

The pace of Vera Drake never surpasses a stroll, but Leigh manages to keep the story involving and entertaining. As with his previous films, most famously Secrets and Lies, the theme is mercilessly depressing, although you never go to see a Leigh film expecting any form of jubilation. Nevertheless, Leigh masterfully directs in a style that Hollywood would never, ever allow, which works very well in this setting which has been carefully constructed to truly recreate the time.

Realism has no effect here on the quality of the script, probably due to Leigh's decision to withhold the abortion theme from all the actors who play members of Vera's family. The only time the film suffers from its commitment to realism is in the closing scenes in which Vera cries incessantly - she struggles to speak continuously which becomes laborious to watch.

Leigh clearly loves his characters, but he shows no remorse in dealing with their simplistic natures. Vera is aware she is committing a crime, yet continues to do so, underlining her moronic nature, something that is hinted at through her gentle humming during household tasks and obsession with making cups of tea. Her grasp of emotion seems infantile: she visits her sick mother and treats it no differently from her housework; a very distressed mother who Vera 'helps' is left emotionally shattered after her meeting with Vera, and the expression on Staunton's face clearly shows that Vera does not fully understand the gravity of the mother's grief or the gravity of the situation.

This very expert character study should not be missed. Vera Drake is a rare type of film, one that audiences are usually unlikely to see amidst the mass marketing of heavyweight blockbusters (as we can see from the film nearly being shut down from lack of funding). Mike Leigh is one of today's most reliable and talented directors, and his immense understanding of his craft is apparent in his execution of it. Vera Drake is a brilliantly made film that will depress and involve you.

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