Vera Drake (2004)


It is very hard to classify a film of this caliber. The previews made it look like a stirring drama, but when I learned the nature of it's plot, I was concerned it might have an agenda. I'm not sure if it does or not, but regardless of its points, gave me a great deal to think about, and that is always important.


Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is a loving wife and mother. She cleans houses three times a week for a living, moving unseen from room to room in the richer districts of 1950's London. Most of her employers think very highly of her, and the rest pretend she's not there. Her husband George (Richard Graham) runs a successful automobile repair shop with his younger brother Sid (Daniel Mays), and their biggest concern is whether or not they can match up their daughter to the lonely bachelor next door. That is the outside appearance, and, as far as Vera's family is concerned, all there is to it. Little do they know that every Friday evening, Vera packs up a little bag and goes to the home of some unfortunate girl who has gotten herself "in a family way." Out of the goodness of her soul, she helps them "get rid of it."


This aspect of her life is kept very hush-hush, even from her husband, because it is illegal and dangerous. Never having encountered any problems with the procedure, Vera takes no payment for her services. She merely wants to help. But one of her girls becomes very ill and nearly dies, drawing the attention of local authorities. What unfolds is a stirring drama of a woman caught in a deception, and the raging emotions of her family as they discover the truth. Through a haze of different feelings, the one I settled on as the foremost was that of incredible sadness, both for the babies she was putting an end to, and for Vera herself. I liked her so much that I didn't want her to go to jail, but at the same time knew that she had to, because what she was doing is wrong. So many films fail to build up such likable characters that we empathize with them even when their behavior is abhorrent to us.


It is neither a pro-abortion kind of production, or an anti-abortion film, straddling the fence between depicting what she does as a kind gesture and showing the horrible aftermath of it -- terrified girls, families torn apart, and even Vera's own son being angry at her for doing something he firmly believes is "immortal, Mum. You're killing babies!" Her methods are primitive and not overly gruesome; the audience knows that she is pumping a mixture of disinfectant and soap into expectant mothers. There's a bit of conversation about taking off knickers, and how the mothers will start to bleed the next day. Even the police dance around the subject, using terms like "prompting miscarriages." Probably the most heart-wrenching moment of film is when the audience doesn't get to hear Vera tell her husband the truth, just watch their faces.


One storyline not followed through on involves a young woman in one of the houses Vera cleans. It's implied that her brute of a boyfriend rapes her, although we just see him harassing her, and forcing her down onto a bed. She goes through the expensive channels of having the baby aborted, and her storyline abruptly ends. I wasn't even sure why it was there to begin with. There's not much language from what I can remember. A married couple kiss and make out in bed. There are about four abortions carried out in the course of the film, and as a pro-life advocate, I found them very sad. In the end, the movie seems to imply that Vera did not realize how dangerous this procedure was, and has no intention of doing it again; but other women persist in doing it even after being caught, sentenced, and serving their time. It also moves a little slowly.

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