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Vera Drake (2004)

  Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Philip Davis, Alex Kelly, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, Imelda Staunton, Peter Wight
Links: Vera Drake on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 7.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

Vera Drake (2004) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Three... Extremes (2004).

"Perfect in some areas, not so great in others" - a review by pearly

Vera Drake is the story of a woman. She lives in England in the 1950s, and she is a loving wife and mother. Her family belongs to the working class; her husband Stan (Philip Davis) works as a mechanic for his brother Frank (Adrian Scarborough). She has two grown-up children, Sid (Daniel Mays), who is a tailor, and Ethel (Alex Kelly), who is looking for a husband. During the day, she works as a cleaner, and, whenever needed, she performs abortions for women who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fees charged by conventional doctors.

Vera Drake like many of Mike Leigh's other films, has a strong focus on the class system of Britain. The title character of Vera, played to perfection by Imelda Staunton, belongs to the working class, but during the course of the film, she has more interaction with the middle classes than she would probably have strictly wanted.

The film does, to a certain extent, elevate the plight of the working class to a level that puts them above any repurcussions for their actions. We see Vera for what she is as a person, a kind-hearted woman who wouldn't hurt a fly. We're bombarded with information about how good all of her intentions are, and then we're shown the justice handed down by the middle class legal system. It is the way of the world according to the working class, and, as the audience, we're swayed towards siding with the Drake family. It is manipulating, but in the end, the decision is still within your own hands as to whether you think the punishment fits the crime.

The wonderful thing about Vera Drake is its realism. The backdrops are drab; the conditions in which the family live and work are far not luxurious, yet they feel happy with their lot, and contented in their lives. The film is able to accurately portray the feeling of the family, just a typical group of people making their way through life, with some tragedies and joys along the way. The character of Joyce (Heather Craney), the wife of Frank, and therefore the Vera's sister-in-law, is particularly utilised to show the difference between the humble Drake family, and those who have been brought up with more. And Joyce is not at all a likeable character, which only accentuates the way that we're supposed to feel about the Drakes.

I'm going back and forth a little on this, so I might as well say it straight. Vera Drake does feel manipulative, and that's more so than just on the abortion issue. You're definitely deftly shoved over into the Hooray-for-the-Drakes corner. I found this to be a little overbearing; it wouldn't have been too difficult to create a heroic story about a battling family; but it didn't bother me too much in the end. What is brilliant about Vera Drake is the realistic way in which the family itself is portrayed: the relationships between each member, and so on. And all of the performances, but in particular, that of Staunton, are amazing, leading to one cohesive unit.

Definitely an interesting watch, and I greatly enjoyed Jim Broadbent's cameo towards the end, however, I think the film could have been improved by toning down the black and white nature of the characters, and adding a little more grey.

pearly gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 23 Feb 2005

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