Vera Drake (2004)
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Is Vera Drake a sinner or a saint?
Director Mike Leigh, known for closely working with his actors, introduces our protagonist Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) as an energetic middle age woman who works the whole day as a cleaning lady for the rich and home attendant for the poor sick and needy. On top of this she regularly attends to her senile mother and to her working class family with mechanic husband and two grown children who still lives at home. Sincere in what she does, she dabbles in secretly helping young women get rid of their unwanted pregnancies. Illegal in Britain in that era of the 50's she was doing it pro bono as a ministry to help the ones who could not afford. In contrast a middle class woman struggling from her pregnancy due to a date rape was shown going thru the right process of the "A" word. In that time it could be administered by the right doctor if you could prove to a psychiatrist that your family has a lineage of mental illness or capacity for suicide.
The eventuality of Vera getting caught was inevitable. Since her sainthood has been engrained in the viewers by half of the story it was hard to watch her get caught. Arrested in front of her family during Christmas time, everybody was caught unaware and not knowing what to do.
Water is what she uses. Like in Christian Baptism she uses prepping tea for the sick and needy to minister to them. In contrast she uses a soapy solution to administer her operation. Water as the source of life or cause of loss of life. This could be thought of as spiritual in nature, although the film does not show her spirituality and belief. She is shown to do this because she believes in helping out those who can not help themselves. For this she gets in trouble and is disgraced to face the justice of the law. Is she a sinner or a saint? A very eloquent portrayal of a lady who was sincere in whatever she does. Punctuated by an spiritual like music, detailed cinematography, straightforward screenplay, the director wove great performances from both cast and crew and brought a soon to be classic tale of a woman who might have existed and might have unconsciously brought about the modern feminist revolution.
Personal Note from the Reviewer:
The actress Imelda Staunton, was there during the screening, I personally told her that the film due to its controversial theme was difficult to watch. I asked her if through her research ( which the actors were asked to do as per Mike Leigh) "were there Vera Drakes out there who did this for free?"
She replied "yes and some did it for a box of chocolates."
Apparently it has become a secret sisterhood in the working class of helping each other even it meant breaking the law. Something like an early feminist movement. I could not help but tear up from that answer. I thanked Imelda for that touching portrayal and told her one could not help and see things through her big brown innocent eyes, our parting words were, "Imelda you should insure those eyes."
She replied, "you think so?"
I think we will see Imelda Staunton at the awards nights, you wait and see.
(Yes, my friend, she did grace the Oscars that year!)
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