Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring: Imelda Staunton, Philip Davis, Eddie Marsan, Sally Hawkins, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly, Heather Craney, Peter Wright
Grade: A -
(Won the Golden Lion of San Marco in 2004, over "3-Iron", "Birth", "Howl's Moving Castle", "Kings and Queen", and "The Sea Inside")
"Vera Drake" is much in the grain of theatre, subjecting its title character to a trial by proxy, rather discouraging us from taking a side in the moral issue on show. Abortion is a polarising enough discussion as it is without drawing attention to the spectrum of opinion, and for the most part the film is successful at relaying the matter to fearful glances and tension within the home environment. Leigh concentrates his focus and helps to richen our voyeuristic experience by using his Actors' own instinctive observations to broaden our sense of the period. Scripturally, his cast are making the best of what they have, and so the Drake family become a canny approximation of working-class post-war England, muddling through life without really taking it for granted. The literalisms of the narrative are strengthened by the aomebic, confined set-plays, anchored significantly by Dick Hope's squalid, tempered cinematography.
While Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark so painstakingly draws attention to its politics, Godardian in the ferocity with which it questions why we think the way that we do, Vera Drake isn't on anywhere near as lucid a plain, since essentially Vera is guilty of the crime she is charged. That doesn't prevent her demise from bearing resemblances to Dancer's Selma: the creative, theatrical side of Selma -- where she isn't following instructions so much as exercising her rite as a leading lady, basking in a rare limelight -- is somewhat relative to the way that Vera wants to craft a path for her children, in a facilitative but harmlessly-maternal capacity. The primary function of both women is to serve their family, and when Vera is eventually confronted about her actions, the assimilating dread of being unable to organise family events, or oversee the births, marriages, and deaths in her period of impending absence, is the most sympathetic part of her plight.