Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Vera Drake

Mike Leigh | 2004 | 125 min | UK

Vera Drake's title character is a woman who spends most of her time caring for her husband, two grown children, ill mother, + most of the neighbourhood, it seems. She acts selflessly to aid those around her when they find themselves in a difficult circumstance. In Britain in 1950, sometimes aiding those around her includes performing illegal abortions for women too poor to be able to jump through the hoops necessary for a clinical abortion. When one of her young patients falls ill, the police come knocking on Vera's door + change the lives of all around her.

Mike Leigh is a director who does simply that. He directs the flow of action, but lets his actors decide what their characters would do, think, say. Vera Drake was shot without any real script. When the film received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the 2005 Oscars it was only because Leigh sent them a verbative script of the finished film's dialogue. The dialogue is sometimes clumsy, uncomfortable, or overquiet. In short, it feels like you are eavesdropping on a conversation between real friends + family.

There are no stars here, only solid character actors. You may recognize several faces, but would be hard pressed to come up with a name. Probably the most recognizable of the bunch, lead Imelda Staunton plays her role wonderfully, as does her whole family. Apparently, every member of the cast was forbidden to discuss the storyline during shooting, + none of the cast members save for Staunton knew the film was about abortion until the reveal on camera.

The results of Leigh's process are very natural, unglamourous, + often devastating portraits of Britain's underclasses. This film is no different. Those familiar with Leigh's other work, including the fantastic films Naked + All or Nothing, will know better than to expect a happy ending in this one. Still, when this film faded to black, I thought, 'Is that the end? No, that can't be the end.' Credits. 'FUCK!' For a very long time movies have programmed us to expect everything to wrap up with miracles + joy despite all evidence to the contrary. The reason why Leigh's film are so affecting is because they never lie to you. If you can handle the dark tone, this is a terrific historical drama. It would be wonderful if this film didn't resonate so much with audiences today, but for reasons both good + bad, it does.

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