Vera Drake (12A)

Written and Directed by Mike Leigh
Screening at FACT from 7th January 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Mike Leigh has a long-established reputation for making sensitive portrayals of often tragic figures, for giving his characters a voice without drowning them in sentimentality. On the whole, he has enhanced his standing with this film, allowing an outstanding cast to depict a 1950s working class family whose world is collapsing.

The Vera Drake of the title is a breezy and compassionate lady who goes about her daily chores humming and singing to herself. She’s forever making “a fresh pot of tea” and giving support to the sick and elderly in her community. She also “helps girls in trouble” - a euphemism for performing backstreet abortions at a time when abortion was illegal.

Imelda Staunton is absolutely flawless as Vera - inhabiting her skin with supreme skill. Philip Davis is superb as her loving husband Sid, and Alex Kelly is delightful as their shy and awkward daughter Ethel. Sometimes the characters are a little too shuffling and pathetic, and it’s a wonder they made it through the war, but Leigh’s care for his creations mirrors that of Vera herself. The last half an hour is particularly grim, but at a time when many in the US want to see abortion banned, this is a great reminder of what that road leads to.