Vera Drake, released in 2004, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, but lost to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I am reviewing Vera Drake, as there were no films beginning with the letter V that won Best Original Screenplay. Vera Drake is rated R for depiction of strong thematic material.
This is one of those films that are controversial. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is an Englishwoman arrested in 1950 for contributing to the miscarriage of a young girl. During that time in England, this was an illegal procedure.
Vera is a kind woman who is a nurturer and a caretaker. She lives in a tiny flat with her husband Stan (Phil Davis) and two grown children, Sid (Daniel Mays) and Ethel (Alex Kelly). She is caregiver to her elderly mother, does domestic housekeeping for the wealthy class, and unbeknownst to her family, induces miscarriages at women’s requests. She is contacted by Lily (Ruth Sheen), who schedules Vera for the procedures, done in women’s apartments and homes. During a procedure, a girl’s mother recognizes Vera from another setting, and when it later goes all wrong, the police get the woman to disclose Vera’s name to them.
Imelda Staunton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and I can see why. She conveys her emotions without words, and her composure, or lack of it, upon the police getting involved, is simply amazing.
Mike Leigh wrote and directed this film, and was nominated for Best Director in addition to Best Original Screenplay. He is one of my favorite directors out of England, having also been at the helm of the films Mr. Turner, Topsy-Turvy, and Secrets & Lies, among others. I read that he filmed without a script, and didn’t tell the actors, other than Vera of course, that she would be arrested and taken to jail. They only found out when their scenes with the police arriving and her disclosure is made known to them. Mr. Leigh had to write up a screenplay after he received the nomination to turn in to the Academy.
A part of the film I appreciated was the inclusion of a woman from the wealthy class, and how she was treated upon choosing to terminate her pregnancy, and how different it was in comparison to the poor women whom Vera helped. Money buys anything, including an additional measure of safety.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I was as surprised as Vera’s family when the full truth comes out. I was a bit disturbed by the initial lack of representation by an attorney for Vera, but the film’s time period is supposed to be well researched, so it must have been the way things were back then.
Whether you agree or not with what Vera did, I think you’d find the film thought provoking. Another film that has to do with this issue is the excellent The Cider House Rules, based on a novel by John Irving.