The year is 1950. The place is postwar London. The woman is Vera Drake. Upon first impression, she seems fairly common. She’s small, aging, and poor. But she is a busybody who’s happy to be so helpful. She’s a pro in multi-tasking. She cleans rich family’s houses for a living. She cares for her ailing mother, husband, son, and daughter. In her spare time, she visits neighbors who need cheering up and a good cup of tea. And on Fridays, she illegally helps young girls out by performing abortion.
Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake” is the type of movie where everything and everyone looks fairly ordinary. But then the characters draw you in. You don’t just become acquainted with Vera. You also hang out with the rest of her family. There’s her loyal husband Frank (Phil Davis), her wonderfully chatty son Sid (Daniel Mays), and her timidly slouched daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly). They seem closer to real people than movie characters. Then there’s Vera herself. She has no bad bone in her body and yet she commits unlawful acts weekly for years. She is neither a rebel nor doing it for money. She just wants to help.
Halfway through the movie, Vera Drake is inevitably arrested. Yes, the dreaded moment interrupts her during a cloud nine scene, but Imelda Staunton (who plays the title role) makes us forget the movie’s slight manipulations. The viewer will undeniably gravitate towards her harrowing performance. The last hour is memorably numbing. Vera is stripped of her sunny disposition and can barely utter responses. It’s painful to watch, albeit nothing violent is happening on screen. And the investigator and the police are actually very nice to her.
The movie slightly leans towards a pro choice. I don’t think the movie wouldn’t be as powerful if you condescend on Vera and think she deserves a future behind bars. The point is that she might have done something wrong, but her heart was in the right place. My focus on the movie wasn’t on whether I agree with abortion or not. I was more fascinated with the tragedy itself. Vera Drake can be compared to a well-earned man consumed by greed and a depressed pill popper who overdosed. All three of them overload on what they think can make them happy. Too much money. Too many pills. Too many purposes in life. Everyone has their own equations of happiness to formulate. Few succeed. Most cheat off each other. And there are those who exceedingly miscalculate.