Jamie Kennedy's favorite movie review site
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look48.89%
Just Average: 15.56%
Pretty Crappy: 2.22%
Sucks: 0%

4 reviews, 21 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Blood Quantum by Jay Seaver

I Am REN by Jay Seaver

Tread by Jay Seaver

Dead Dicks by Jay Seaver

Ford v Ferrari by Rob Gonsalves

Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Peter Sobczynski

Long Walk, The (2019) by Jay Seaver

Ride Your Wave by Jay Seaver

Enter the Fat Dragon (2020) by Jay Seaver

Sea Fever by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Vera Drake
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by EricDSnider

"Not as funny as you'd expect an abortion movie to be, but still."
4 stars

The title character in "Vera Drake" is a plump, middle-aged wife and mother who works cheerfully as a housekeeper for rich people and performs a dizzying succession of good deeds in her spare time. She visits shut-ins, invites lonely bachelors over for tea with the family, sews patches on friends' tattered clothing -- oh, and often appears at women's houses to perform their abortions.

What is most extraordinary about this film, written and directed by that master of British dreariness Mike Leigh ("All or Nothing," "Secrets & Lies") and set in early 1950s London, is that while it is about abortion, it is not JUST about abortion, nor even JUST about the abortionist. Every character is richly drawn, every detail is perfect. Where many filmmakers would treat abortion as an enormous entree and serve it up without a thought to presentation, Leigh uses it as a centerpiece and surrounds it with an elegant buffet.

Vera is acted with Oscar-worthy precision by Imelda Staunton, and if five better performances yet emerge this year and bump her out of the running, then it will have been a stunning year for actresses indeed. She makes the character more complex than she could have been, showing genuine sympathy for the people she attends to, yet remaining briskly efficient. She is nearly always out of breath from bustling about. Her instructions to her abortion patients, we realize, are almost word-for-word the same each time, and when she stops by the home of a shut-in -- including her own aged mother -- her conversation is not just light and merry but extremely brief. She never seems at a loss for words, because when all else fails, she suggests making tea, a superficial solution to what are often difficult problems. We know she's not terribly well-educated, and you get the feeling she's perhaps a little simple-minded, too, as if her desire to do good in the world is often at odds with her inability to process all the pain and suffering she sees.

Yet at the same time, it could all be on purpose. Her polite cordiality could be a calculation to keep her from becoming emotionally attached to the people she helps. Her husband Stan (Phil Davis) and grown children Sid (Daniel Mays) and Ethel (Alex Kelly) adore her, look up to her, let her run the household with the same unassuming power that she runs everything else. She is either brilliant, or else in over her head. If the film were twice as long, I suspect I would learn twice as much about the character through Staunton's textured performance of her.

Around here are more interesting details and fascinating characters. Stan works as a mechanic with his brother Frank (Adrian Scarborough), whose materialistic wife Joyce (Heather Craney) keeps them steadily in debt. Sid is a tailor and a smooth-talker. Ethel is mousy and shy and works in a factory testing light bulbs. She probably wanted to be just like Mum earlier on but has now realized she's not cut out for it. No one knows about Vera's secret occupation.

We don't know how or when Vera started doing abortions, but the woman who arranges them for her is a cold, bespectacled woman named Lily (Ruth Sheen). She's a businesswoman who sells rationed sugar and other supplies to her friends and who also accepts payment of two shillings for the abortions. Vera sees none of this. She's just doing it to be helpful.

The first half of the film establishes the world of Vera Drake, of her family and acquaintances and lifestyle. In the second half, it comes crashing down. The legal status of abortions is not exactly explained -- we see a doctor offering to perform one for 150 pounds, but it's not clear whether he ought to be -- but for an unlicensed woman to go from house to house doing them is definitely illegal, and Vera is apprehended. Leigh shows us the entire grueling process, arrest, interrogation, bail hearing and trial. Vera remains heartbreakingly sweet and complacent throughout, insisting she was only doing the Christian thing by "helping girls out."

The film barely addresses the rightness of wrongness of abortion; such matters are not the point. What matters is that Vera Drake believes what she is doing is right. Politics are beside the point.

No claim is made that "Vera Drake" is based on a true story, but it has the mark of a film that is, including a certain lack of focus near the end as it wanders toward its conclusion. Certainly there were women like Vera in England (and America, I'd wager) in the 1950s and before, when abortion was either illegal or only vaguely legal and seldom discussed. Every detail of the film breathes with authenticity, fully creating the grimy, working-class world of post-war London, and the characters talk, behave and look exactly like real people. (There is not what you'd call a handsome face anywhere to be found.) To watch it is to be transported 5 1/2 decades back in time and thrust into another world.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11017&reviewer=247
originally posted: 11/08/04 01:03:51
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/25/08 Gut Wrench The martyrdom of Saint Vera of the Abortions 2 stars
6/07/07 fools♫gold I think to myself, "Is 'Land of the Dead' much better than this?" 4 stars
12/19/06 William Goss A tremendously terrific ensemble, esp. Staunton, lend tremendous weight to abortion drama. 4 stars
5/29/06 Martin Shutkever Great atmosphere of 1950's England 4 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Leigh helms one of the best of 2004. What else did you expect? 4 stars
6/26/05 Lawrence Volpe Wonderful cast, brilliant acting in particular by Imelda Stauton 4 stars
6/14/05 Janglepuppy Good film, Imelda Staunton is incredible in it. 4 stars
4/17/05 Phil M. Aficionado I agree with EricD, and just wish there were a 4.5 point rating category 5 stars
3/20/05 albert the definite stanton role 5 stars
3/11/05 jcjs wonderful 5 stars
3/11/05 Nick Boyd very realistic and well-acted 5 stars
2/26/05 matthew smith a fine actors piece, well crafted. 4 stars
2/23/05 Jenna Furr EricD can't stand fart humor; expects abortion movies to be funny. Ay, Caramba! 4 stars
2/21/05 Hilary Adamson Must be a true story; else they wouldn't've made her initials VD. 4 stars
2/10/05 Jenny Compulsory viewing 5 stars
2/05/05 lili shefer An inteligent humanistic work of art 5 stars
2/04/05 oOParkerOo Too long, no story and left me with strange aftertaste. Good acting though 3 stars
12/07/04 Heather Imelda Staunton deserves an Oscar nomination 5 stars
11/08/04 DM A little slow at points, but it leaves quite an impression 4 stars
11/07/04 Robert V. Mack Great! 5 stars
11/02/04 carola awesome 5 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  10-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 29-Mar-2005



Directed by
  Mike Leigh

Written by
  Mike Leigh

  Imelda Staunton
  Richard Graham
  Eddie Marsan
  Anna Keaveney
  Alex Kelly
  Daniel Mays

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 
Privacy Policy | | HBS Inc. |   
All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast