11. Vera Drake (2004) [Rated R for depiction of strong thematic material.]
summary from imdb.com:
Abortionist Vera Drake finds her beliefs and practices clash with the mores of 1950s Britain–a conflict that leads to tragedy for her family.
directed by: Mike Leigh
starring: Imelda Staunton, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent
Imelda Staunton: First thing we’ve got to do… is put the kettle on. Oh. Got a bowl in here? Now, where are…? You got a towel, dear? Very good. Where’s your bed?
Woman: Through here.
Imelda: Now, what I want you to do… take your knickers off for me, lie down here. Don’t you be upset. Because I’m here to help you, aren’t I? And that’s what I’m going to do. So… hop your bottom on the bed and I’ll be back in a jiffy. Here we are, then. Hop on the bed for me.
Woman: How long is it going to take?
Imelda: Not long, dear. Open your legs. You on your own?
Woman: Only for a bit.
Imelda: Now, what I’m going to do is have a little feel, make sure everything’s as it should be and then we’ll get the soapy water inside, so you go all floppy for me.
Woman: What do you mean?
Imelda: Just lie down, dear. Wet my hand a bit… and feel. You’re all right. All right… Push this little tube in. All right. Here comes the water. When you feel full, we’ll stop. Was you at work, today?
Woman: I went in this morning.
Imelda: Weather’s turned.
Imelda: Now… that feel full?
Imelda: You dry yourself off. Hold that towel there for a minute and I’ll clean out the bowl. Now, what’s going to happen is tomorrow or the day after you’ll get a bit of a pain down below. Take yourself to the toilet, you’ll start bleeding then it’ll all come away.
Woman: What do you mean, “it will come away”?
Imelda: It’ll all be over, dear. You’ll be right as rain.
Woman: I won’t die, will I?
Imelda: No, dear. Right. I’ll be on my way. I’ll see meself out.
Woman: It’s all right.
Imelda: Look after yourself, dear.
Imelda Staunton: Hello, Lily.
Ruth Sheen: Your bleedin’ stairs. They’ll be the death of me. You’ve must’ve heard the kettle boil.
Imelda: No. Just made a fresh pot.
Ruth: How’d that go the other week?
Imelda: Same as usual.
Ruth: Nervous little thing, wasn’t she?
Imelda: I know. I put her right. Set her mind at rest.
Ruth: You always do, don’t you?
Imelda: Don’t you want a biscuit, Lily?
Ruth: Won’t say no. Thank you. I’ve got another one for you.
Imelda: Oh, yes?
Ruth: Friday, is it? Is Friday all right?
Ruth: I told her 5:00.
Imelda: That’s all right, yes.
Ruth: Want some tea? Sardines?
Imelda: I’m all right this week, Lily. Oh, now what sweets you got?
Ruth: Boiled sweets. Here you are. Don’t you want some for your Ethel?
Imelda: How much are them, then?
Ruth: Tuppence a bag. A penny eighty to you.
Ruth: Kelp Street.
Imelda: Oh, I know.
Ruth: Nora. She’s got seven kids already.
Imelda: Oh, can’t she manage?
Ruth: No, could you?
Imelda: I’ve only got a thruppenny bit.
Ruth: I’ve got change.
Imelda: Ain’t the husband around?
Ruth: I expect so. Can’t control himself, if you ask me.
Imelda: Terrible. Poor woman.
Ruth: Serves her right. Don’t you want no sardines for your mother?
Tilly Vosburgh: It’s going to have to be quick. Is it going to take long?
Imelda Staunton: No, dear.
Tilly: I haven’t told him, you see? He’s supposed to be at work.
Imelda: Yes, dear.
Tilly: What’s he want to come home sick for?
Imelda: Take your knickers off for me.
Tilly: Can’t have no more kids, see? I’ve got seven already. I ain’t having no more.
Imelda: I know, dear.
Tilly: It’d kill me.
Imelda: Lay the towel on the bed for me. You sit right on the edge.
Tilly: What’s that?
Imelda: Just soapy water, dear… a bit of disinfectant.
Tilly: Do you want me to lie down?
Imelda: Stay where you are. I’ve just got to get this inside.
Tilly: All right.
Imelda: All right. You all right?
woman #1: Did you have to come far?
Imelda Staunton: Not far, dear, no.
woman #1: Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?
Imelda: No, thank you. Have you done this before, dear?
woman #1: Yes, as it happens.
woman #2: Here we are… One bowl, one towel. Kettle’s on.
Imelda: Oh. Thank you.
woman #2: Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?
Imelda: No, dear.
woman #2: What? You know, your hair looks really lovely.
woman #1: Do you think so?
woman #2: Yes.
woman #1:Oh. Why don’t you make us all a cup of tea?
woman #2: What, do you want a cup of tea as well? Oh. Good luck.
Imelda: All right, dear. You’re gonna have to take your knickers off.
woman #1: Okey-dokey.
Sally Hawkins: I wanted to talk to you.
Fenella Woolgar: Fire away.
Sally: Um. You’re the first person I thought of.
Fenella: Really. Crikey, Susan. What is it?
Sally: I have this, um… friend, who… she needs some help. I’m sorry. Sorry.
Fenella: You’ve got yourself into trouble, haven’t you? Oh, Susan. You clot. Who told you to phone me? All right. I’ll tell you what you have to do. Oh, and when you see the psychiatrist, you have to make up a fearful fib about some potty aunt or something or other. Here. Have a hanky.
Sally: Thank you.
Fenella: You’ll be all right, you know.
Nicky Henson: Now… is this your first pregnancy?
Sally Hawkins: Yes.
Nicky: And what does the father say?
Sally: Um… I don’t want my parents to know.
Nicky: No, no, no. I mean the father of the child. Big as you can. Come and sit down. Have you considered the possibility of having the child?
Sally: I can’t.
Nicky: Very well. I’ll help you, but I’m afraid we are obliged to discuss the delicate matter of money. It’ll come to 150 pounds. How much do you have available?
Sally: Umm, just over 100 pounds.
Nicky: I see. Well… Let’s say 100 guinea, shall we? In advance. In cash. Now, I shall require you to see a psychiatrist.
Sally: I know.
Nicky: Do you.
Nicky: And I’ll arrange the nursing home and the obstetrician. Baxter. Terribly good man. Any questions?
Allan Corduner: Pretty day.
Sally Hawkins: Yes.
Allan: How many weeks pregnant are you?
Allan: And were you a virgin? Yes. Miss Wells, it would be helpful if you would give me simple and honest answers if you can. What does your father do?
Sally: My father?
Sally: Umm… he works in the Ministry of Defense.
Allan: And are your parents happily married?
Sally: Umm… I think so.
Allan: Is there any history of mental illness in your family?
Sally: Yes… an aunt of my mother’s committed suicide.
Allan: Did she?
Allan: And your own mental state, how would you describe it at the moment?
Allan: Anxious? Depressed? Tell me your feelings towards the father of the child. Do you love him?
Allan: Does he love you?
Allan: Did you love him at the point of conception?
Allan: Did he force himself on you? Miss Wells… if you were to have the child, would you keep it or have it adopted?
Sally: I can’t have it. I’d rather kill myself.
Allan: Well, I don’t think we can allow that to happen… can we?
Angie Wallis: Miss Wells.
Sally Hawkins: Hello.
Angie: I’m Nurse Willoughby.
Sally: How do you do?
Angie: Is this all your luggage?
Sally: Uhh, yes.
Angie: If you’d like to follow me.
Sally: Thank you.
Angie: Have you had far to come?
Sally: Not really, no.
Angie: Miss Wells.
Angie: Sister Beech.
Sally: How do you do?
Judith Scott: I hope you’ll be comfortable.
Sally: Thank you.
Imelda Staunton: I’ll put this back under the bed for you. Now… that didn’t take too long, did it?
Vinette Robinson: What, you finished already?
Imelda: Yes, dear.
Vinette: So when am I going to see you again?
Imelda: What did you say, dear?
Vinette: You have to come back, yes?
Imelda: Oh no, dear. I’ve done all I’ve got to do. Now you’ve just got to wait.
Vinette: What is it I’m waiting for?
Imelda: For it to come away, dear.
Vinette: But all you used was a little bit of water.
Imelda: Don’t you worry.
Vinette: What happens if something goes wrong?
Imelda: Now what’s going to happen is this… tomorrow… or Sunday, you’ll have a pain down below. Get yourself to the toilet. You’ll start bleeding, it’ll all come away, you’ll be right as rain. What you need now is a nice hot cup of tea. Take care, dear. Ta ta.
Ruth Sheen: Have you got the money?
Rosie Cavaliero: I’ve got the 2 pounds.
Ruth: 2 pounds?
Rosie: That’s what she told me.
Ruth: Well, she told you wrong. It’s two guineas.
Rosie: Oh, I’m sorry.
Ruth: Ain’t no use being sorry.
Rosie: Oh. You want payment now then, do you?
Ruth: Well, I don’t want payment next week, do I? Where is your husband, anyway?
Rosie: Korea, since you’re asking.
Ruth: In the forces, is he?
Rosie: Yes. Two guineas.
Ruth: Thank you very much. So it’s not his, then? What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?
Rosie: Done this for a lot of girls then, have you?
Ruth: Mind your own bleedin’ business.
Rosie: I’m only asking.
Ruth: And I’m only telling you. Right. You put your address down there. She’ll be there at 5:00. Don’t mention the money. That’s between me and you. Is that understood?
Ruth Sheen: Can you do one on Friday?
Imelda Staunton: 5:00?
Imelda: That’s all right.
Ruth: Married lady.
Imelda: Oh, yes?
Ruth: Got herself in a bit of trouble.
Imelda: How is that, then?
Ruth: Having a bit of “how’s your father” on the side.
Imelda: Oh, that’s not right, is it, Lily?
Ruth: Well, I don’t think so.
Imelda: Still, gotta help them out, ain’t you?
Ruth: How’d you get on with that darkie?
Imelda: Oh, I did feel sorry for her.
Ruth: Long way from home?
Imelda: She was very scared.
Ruth: What are they doing over here, anyways?
Imelda: Trying to make a better life for themselves, I shouldn’t wonder.
Ruth: They should stay where they are.
Imelda: They’re hard workers.
Rosie Cavaliero: I’m ever so scared.
Imelda Staunton: Try not to upset yourself, dear.
Rosie: S- sorry… I’ve got to pull myself together. Oh, I’ve got to go through with this. Oh, I know I have to… it’s just that… nobody knows… well, my friend knows, but she doesn’t know… I mean she doesn’t know it’s today. So if anything were to happen to me… no one would know.
Imelda: You’ve got to get your knickers off, dear, and lie down.
Rosie: Oh. Oh, no. No, no, no. No, no, no. Oh, no. No… I’m a terrible person!
Imelda Staunton: Can you feel that, dear? Starting to fill up?
Liz White: Yes.
Lesley Sharp: Does that feel peculiar, Pam?
Liz: Yes, Mom.
Lesley: That’s how it’s meant to feel, ain’t it? Peculiar?
Leslie: You’ve done this before, ain’t you?
Imelda: Yes, dear.
Leslie: So, it’s safe.
Liz: It’s safe, isn’t it?
Leslie: Yes, darling.
Imelda: And when it’s full, that’s when we’ll stop. I know your face from somewhere.
Leslie: Who, me?
Leslie: Do you?
Imelda: I can’t think where, though. You all right?
Leslie: Of course. Sunlight laundry.
Imelda: Oh, dear.
Leslie: It’s Vera, ain’t it?
Imelda: That’s right.
Leslie: Vera Drake.
Imelda: I knew your mother before the war.
Liz: Did you?
Leslie: Was you doing this back then?
Imelda: That feel full, dear?
Imelda: All right. Just dry yourself off.
[sometime after Vera leaves:]
Lesley Sharp: Get that down you, come on. Cold. Cold. Cool you down. Cool you down.
Liz Sharp: [cries and groans in bed]
Anthony O’Donnell: Hello again, Pamela. How are you feeling? Poorly, hmm? Now, I need to take another look at your tummy. Don’t worry, I’ll be as gentle as I can.
Lucy Pleasance: Pamela, we just need you to straighten your legs. Good girl. Right onto the bed.
Anthony: I promise you, I have very warm hands.
Lucy: Bring your bottom up. Good girl. That’s it.
Anthony: Now, I’m going to press gently and I want you to tell me what happens when I let go. Good girl, well done. We’ll do an internal, Sister.
Lucy: All right, doctor.
Anthony: Now then, Mrs. Barnes, I, uh… I don’t have very good news, I’m afraid.
Leslie Sharp: Why, why, what’s happening?
Anthony: I’m going to have to operate. Pamela is a very sick girl.
Leslie: She ain’t gonna die, is she?
Anthony: We sincerely hope not, Mrs. Barnes, But this is a grave situation, as I’m sure you’ll understand. Now then, when Pamela was admitted this evening, you stated that she was having a miscarriage.
Anthony: But that isn’t the whole truth, is it? Mrs. Barnes, did you do something to Pamela to try to bring about a termination?
Leslie: No, I didn’t!
Anthony: Well, somebody did. You know that and I know that. Mrs. Barnes, I’ve been a doctor for over 25 years. Sister and I see cases like this every weekend, don’t we, Sister?
Lucy: Yes, we do.
Leslie: All right… someone come to the house.
Anthony: And what did they do?
Leslie: She grated pink soap into a bowl of warm water and she had a bottle of stuff and she put…
Anthony: And she used a syringe.
Anthony: And no doubt, she’ll use her syringe again. And again and again and again, and Sister and I will have to deal with dozens of cases just like Pamela’s. Mrs. Barnes, these people must be stopped. You’re going to have to inform the police.
Leslie: I ain’t talking to them.
Lucy: Sister Coombes. Righty-oh. They’re ready for you in theater, Mr. Walsh.
Anthony: Thank you, Sister. Mrs. Barnes, if you don’t inform the police, I’m going to have to. Unfortunately, it’s my legal obligation to do so. Excuse me.
Peter Wight: Excuse me, nurse.
Tracy O’Flaherty: Yes, sir?
Peter: We’re police officers. We’re looking for Sister Coombes.
Tracy: Oh yes, sir, just follow me. Sister, it’s police.
Peter: Good evening, sister. I’m Detective Inspector Webster, this is D.S. Vickers…
Peter Wight: You telephoned for an ambulance this afternoon, is that right?
Lesley Sharp: Yes.
Peter: Now, why did you do that?
Leslie: She was having a miscarriage, weren’t she?
Peter: A miscarriage.
Peter: Mr. Walsh has told us that somebody came round to your house to perform an operation on your daughter.
Leslie: Well, there you are, Mr. Walsh just told you. Doctors know everything. Why don’t you ask him?
Peter:I want to hear it from you, Mrs. Barnes.
Leslie: He’s the one what phoned you. I never phoned you. It ain’t got nothing to do with me.
Helen Coker: Keep your voice down, Mrs. Barnes.
Peter: Who was it that performed this operation?
Leslie: A woman.
Peter:Do you know her name?
Peter: How did you get in touch with this woman?
Leslie: I don’t know. You just ask about.
Peter: Who did you ask?
Leslie: People at work.
Peter: Where do you work, Mrs. Barnes?
Leslie: Allied Laundries… Clerkenwell Road.
Peter: Who did you talk to at work?
Leslie: What does it matter now?
Peter: Your daughter’s just nearly died, Mrs. Barnes.
Helen: It would be in your best interests.
Peter: You do realize this is a criminal matter.
Leslie: All right. Vera.
Leslie: Vera Drake.
Peter: That’s who you talked to at work?
Leslie: No, sir, she’s the one what come round. She’s the one what done it.
Peter: Vera Drake is the person that performed the operation on your daughter?
Peter: So you do know her name.
Peter: Had you met her before?
Leslie: We both worked in a laundry in 1931.
Peter: Have you seen her since then?
Peter: Do you know where she lives?
Martin Savage: What does she look like, Mrs. Barnes?
Leslie: Um, small… small hands. I ain’t going to get in to trouble for this, am I?
Peter: It’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it? Somebody you haven’t seen for years just suddenly turns up on your doorstep.
Leslie: Well, I ain’t lying! You’re twisting my words. That’s not fair!
Helen: It’s all right, dear.
Peter: I’m not suggesting you are lying, Mrs. Barnes. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of things.
Peter Wight: Mrs. Drake, I’m Detective Inspector Webster. This is Detective Sergeant Vickers and W.P.C. Best.
Imelda Staunton: I know why you’re here.
Peter: Beg your pardon?
Imelda: I know why you’re here.
Peter: Why are we here?
Imelda: ‘Cause of what I do.
Peter: Because of what you do.
Peter: What is it that you do, Mrs. Drake?
Imelda: I help young girls out.
Peter: You help young girls out?
Imelda: That’s right.
Peter: How do you help them out? […] Can you answer my question, please? How do you help them out?
Imelda: When they can’t manage.
Peter: When they can’t manage?
Imelda: That’s right.
Peter: You mean, when they’re pregnant? So, how do you help them out?
Imelda: I help them start their bleeding again.
Peter: You help them to get rid of the baby?
Imelda: I’ve spoiled their day for them now, haven’t I?
Peter: You perform an abortion. Is that right, Mrs. Drake? You perform abortions, don’t you?
Imelda: That’s not what I do, dear. That’s what you call it, but they need help. Who else are they gonna turn to? They’ve got no one. I help them out.
Peter: Did you help Pamela Barnes in this way?
Imelda: Pamela… yes, I did.
Peter: On Friday?
Imelda: That’s right. Is she all right?
Peter: She nearly died, Mrs. Drake… last night. She’ll live.
Imelda: Thank you.
Peter: She’s in a hospital, but she’ll live. Mrs. Drake, I’m arresting you for carrying out an illegal operation on Pamela Mary Barnes, of 37 Flixton Street, London, North 1… on the 17th of November, 1950. You’re not obliged to say anything, but anything you say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?
Imelda: I think so, dear… yes.
Peter: I must ask you to accompany me to the police station. Mrs. Drake… does anybody in that room know why we’re here?
Imelda: No. No. You won’t tell them, will you?
Peter: No. Now, the equipment you used to perform these operations… is it here on the premises? Can you get it for me, please?
Helen Coker: Can you manage?
Imelda: Thank you, dear.
Martin Savage: Pop it on the bed for me, please. Would you mind showing me what’s inside?
Imelda: Sorry, dear?
Martin: I need to see the contents of the bag.
Helen: Take your time.
Martin: Can you open it up, please? Thank you.
Peter Wight: Don’t get up, Mrs. Drake. Now, Mrs. Drake… you help women who are in trouble. How long have you been doing this?
Imelda Staunton: I don’t know, dear.
Peter: Well… roughly speaking. Five, 10 years?
Imelda: A long time.
Peter: 20 years?
Imelda: Maybe, yes.
Peter: About 20 years.
Imelda: No… I don’t know.
Peter: Mrs. Drake, you’re in a police station under arrest for a serious criminal offense, do you understand me?
Imelda: Yes, I’m sorry.
Peter: It’s very important that you try to answer my questions truthfully.
Imelda: Yes. Is my… is my husband in yet?
Peter: Yes, Mrs. Drake. He is. How did you start… helping girls in this way?
Imelda: I can’t.
Helen Coker: Don’t worry, Vera.
Martin Savage: Just answer the inspector’s question.
Peter: Mrs. Drake… did it happen to you, when you were a girl? Now… as far as you’re aware… have any of the other girls you’ve helped over the years become ill?
Imelda: What did you say, dear? Sorry.
Peter: Have any of them gone to the hospital?
Peter: Are you sure?
Peter: Do you always use the syringe? You don’t ever use knitting needles or hooks…
Peter: or any other metal objects?
Imelda: No, no. I wouldn’t do that.
Peter: How much do you charge, Mrs. Drake?
Peter: How much do they pay you?
Imelda: I don’t take money. I never take money. I wouldn’t… That’s not why…
Peter: You do it for nothing.
Imelda: Of course I do. They need help.
Peter: Do you know a Mrs. Lillian Clark?
Peter: How long have you known her?
Imelda: I think it’s when we was kids.
Peter: She puts young girls in touch with you, doesn’t she?
Peter: Did she put you in touch with Pamela Barnes. Did you know that Lillian Clark was paid two guineas by Pamela’s mother?
Peter: She never gives you any money.
Peter: You telling me the truth?
Imelda: Yes, I am. Can I go home now, please?
Peter: No, Mrs. Drake. I’m afraid not.
Imelda: My children will be worried sick.
Robert Putt: You are charged that you, Vera Rose Drake, on the 17th day of November, 1950 at 37 Flixton Street, North One with the intent to procure a miscarriage, did unlawfully and feloniously use an instrument on Pamela Mary Barnes, contrary to section 58 of the Offenses Against the Person Act, 1861. Do you wish to say anything in answer to the charge? You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so, but whatever you say will be taken down in writing and may be given in evidence.
Imelda Staunton: No.
Imelda Staunton: I’m sorry.
Richard Graham: What do you got to be sorry about? What is it, love? Look at the state of her, she don’t deserve this.
Peter Wight: You’re going to have to tell him, Mrs. Drake. Your wife has been charged. I’m afraid she’s going to have to spend the night here in the police station.
Helen Coker: We will take good care of her, sir.
Peter: She’ll be appearing before the magistrate in the morning. If you’d like to come with me, sir.
Imelda: Don’t tell Ethel and Sid. Promise me.
Richard Graham: She’s in serious trouble, Frank.
Adrian Scarborough: Why, what’s happened?
Richard: What am I gonna do?
Adrian: What is it? Tell me.
Richard: I can’t. She’s been helping young girls out.
Adrian: How do you mean?
Richard: What find themselves in the family way.
Adrian: You mean… I don’t believe it.
Richard: She told me herself in front of the cops. She asked me not to tell the kids. What shall I do?
Adrian: You got to tell them the truth.
Richard: I know.
Adrian: What’s gonna happen to her?
Richard: She’s got to go to court in the morning.
Daniel Mays: I don’t believe it. How could she do that?
Richard Graham: She was trying to help people out, Sid.
Daniel: She wasn’t, though.
Richard: Well, whatever she done, she’s done it out of the kindness of her heart.
Daniel: She’s let us down…
Imelda Staunton: Hello, Sid.
Daniel Mays: I didn’t think you’d be here.
Richard Graham: Come here and sit down, Sid.
Daniel: I’m going to go up to me room.
Adrian Scarborough: I’ve known her since I was six. She’s been like a mom… she was me mom. The two of them paid for me apprenticeship.
Heather Craney: Yes, I know all that, Frank.
Adrian: All their savings… When I left on me own, I spent all me time round there. She taught me how to waltz in the front room. She always made us laugh.
Heather: Stupid cow. How can she be so selfish?
Richard: So now you both know what we know.
Daniel: I wish I didn’t know any of it, Dad.
Richard: Well, we all wish that, Sid.
Imelda: I’m ever so sorry.
Daniel: How could you do those things, Mom? I don’t understand it.
Imelda: I don’t expect you do, Sid.
Daniel: Why’d you do it?
Imelda: I had to.
Daniel: It’s wrong though, ain’t it? Eh?
Imelda: I don’t think so.
Daniel: of course it is! That’s little babies. I mean, you hear about these things, you read about it in the papers, but you don’t expect to come home to it on your own doorstep with your own mom! You ain’t got no right!
Richard: That’s enough, Sid.
Daniel: Of what? So what are we supposed to do then, eh? Sit round, playing happy family, pretending like nothing’s happened?
Richard: I said that’s enough!
Daniel: You lied to us.
Richard: No, she never…
Daniel: She did.
Richard: She never told us, but she never lied.
Daniel: Same thing!
Richard: No it ain’t!
Daniel: It’s dirty.
Eddie Marsan: All right?
Alex Kelly: Come on in.
Eddie: It don’t seem fair. Look at my own mom. Six of us in two rooms. It’s all right if you’re rich. But if you can’t feed ’em, you can’t love ’em, can you?
Imelda: Poor Sid.
Philip Davis: I know. Everything’s black and white for Sid. He’s young.
Imelda: I can’t blame him.
Philip: He’ll come round.
Imelda: I don’t know, Stan.
Philip: Here, come here.
Imelda: I don’t think I can tell mother.
Philip: She don’t need to know. It’s all right.
Richard: It’s all gonna come out, Sid. Everyone will know. Some people won’t be able to look us in the eye… cross the road to avoid us.
Daniel: Can you blame ’em?
Richard: You wanna be one of them people? Can’t look your own mother in the eye? Eh?
Daniel: You know when you went off into war, You turned round to me, you said, “Sid, you’re the man of the house now, you’ve got to look after things.” And I did. I was only 13. Me and Mom, we pulled together… and Ethel… she must’ve been doing it then.
Richard: I know.
Daniel: So how many has she done over the years then, eh? Dozens? Hundreds? And all right, fair enough… she’s kept it from me and Ethel, but she didn’t even tell you.
Richard: If she’d told me, I’d have put a stop to it, wouldn’t I?
Daniel: I don’t get it, ain’t you angry?
Richard: Of course I’m bloody angry, you silly bugger.
Daniel: You’re asking me to forgive her.
Richard: Yes. You can forgive her, Sid. She’s your mother. She’d forgive you anything, wouldn’t she? I know you think she’s done a bad thing… but God knows, she’s going to get punished enough for what she’s done. We can’t let her down.
Daniel: I don’t know what to say to you, Mom.
Imelda: You don’t have to say nothing, Sid.
Daniel: I’m scared for you, that’s all.
Imelda: You’ll have to look after your dad.
Daniel: ‘Course. ‘Course I will. I love you, Mom.
Paul Jesson: Stand up. Vera Rose Drake. I commit you for trial at the central criminal court of the next session commencing… the 10th of January, 1951. I shall admit you to bail in your own recognizances in the sum of 50 pounds and I shall grant a defense certificate.
Philip Childs: Is your name, Vera Rose Drake?
Imelda Staunton: Yes.
Philip: Prisoner at the bar, you are charged with using an instrument with intent to procure miscarriage, contrary to section 58 of the Offenses Against the Person Act, 1861. The particulars of the offense, are that on the 17th day of November, 1950 in the county of London, you did unlawfully use an instrument with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman named Pamela Mary Barnes. How say you? Are you guilty, or not guilty?
Imelda: I’m guilty.
Jim Broadbent: Could you please speak up, Mrs. Drake, that the court might hear you?
Imelda Staunton: I’m guilty.
Jim: Thank you.
Philip: Please be seated.
Jeffrey Wickham: …and cautioned her. on being asked to surrender the equipment used for the abortion, the defendant produced nine objects from the top of a cupboard in the bedroom. My Lord, they were: a Higginson’s syringe… that is exhibit EW-1. A cheese grater… exhibit EW-2. A nail brush… exhibit EW-3. A bottle of disinfectant… exhibit EW-4 wrapped in a towel… exhibit EW-5. A piece of carbolic soap wrapped in a dishcloth… they are exhibits EW-6 and EW-7. Those last two objects were both enclosed in a tin. Which is exhibit EW-8. All the aforementioned items were kept in a cloth bag, which as Your Lordship can see is exhibit EW-9.
Nicholas Jones: Vera Drake is not concerned with riches. She simply helps people as and when she’s asked. She’s always helped people. Her solicitude for others has led her to commit one of the most serious offenses in the calendar, but her intention… was to help the young girl and not to harm her. I may assure Your Lordship that Vera Drake is more relieved than anyone about the recovery of Pamela Barnes. I submit that Your Lordship would have little doubt that this… unfortunate woman is now ever likely to reoffend… and that is the case for the defense, my Lord.
Philip: Thank you, Mr. Hampton Ward. Prisoner at the bar, please rise. Prisoner at the bar, you stand convicted of felony. Have you anything to say why the court should not give you judgment according to law?
Philip: Please remain standing.
Jim Broadbent: Vera Rose Drake, you have committeda crime, the gravity of which cannot be overestimated. The law is very clear and you have willfully broken that law. And furthermore, in so doing, you have put at risk the life of a vulnerable young woman. And but for the timely intervention of the medical profession… you might have been before me on an even more serious charge than the one that has brought you here today. Now… I have heard your plea of guilty, and I have taken that into account… and I have listened very carefully to the submissions of your council. But nothing has been advanced me today on your behalf which would persuade me to take any course other than to impose a custodial sentence. Indeed… the extreme seriousness of your crime is bound to be reflected in the sentence that I am about to pass. And that must serve as a deterrent to others. I therefore sentence you to a term of imprisonment, which will be two years and six months. Take her down.
Stephan Dunbar: All rise.
Jane Wood: How long did you say you got?
Imelda: Two years and six months.
Jane: First offense?
Imelda: Oh, yes.
Angela Curran: Did she die?
Imelda: No, dear. I don’t know what I’d have done if she had.
Angela: My girl died.
Imelda: Did she?
Jane: So did mine.
Imelda: Oh, dear.
Jane: What’d you use?
Imelda: A syringe.
Angela: There you are.
Jane: Hundreds of times… safe as houses.
Imelda: Yes, I don’t know what happened.
Jane: We just do our best, love.
Imelda: How long you in here for then?
Angela: Three years.
Angela: Second time for us.
Jane: Cheer up. You’ll only do half.
Angela: You’ll be out before you know it.
Imelda: Yes. See you later, then.
Eileen Davies: Mind where you’re going, Drake.
[director Mike Leigh] states: “I deliberately and without any affectation made Vera Drake to pose a moral dilemma that has no slick or easy answers. We live in an overpopulated world. There is no question that to bring and unwanted and unloved child into this chaos is deeply irresponsible. There is no question that you destroy life when you terminate a pregnancy. But there is also no question that choice ought to exist. Those are my personal views. The film can only work if the audience takes the moral and emotional debate away with them.”
“Vera Drake” is a more solemn film and takes abortion and its toll much more seriously. This seriousness is surely due to both the maturity of its director and to the era in which it is set, the socially stratified Britain of 1950, when the unborn were still protected under quaint Victorian law. As in “Alfie,” however, the audience is asked to accept that abortion is the obvious solution for the unhappily pregnant. The film’s chief objections are that rich women abort in more comfortable and sanitary environs, which is obviously unfair, and that unlike male doctors, with their smooth talk and oak-paneled offices, working-class abortionists like Vera risk going to prison.
The next best thing is to declare the baby an Unperson, and in this regard the main character in “Vera Drake” practically embodies our euphemistic post-Roe society. Kindly Vera “helps young girls in trouble” in a way that will cause them “pain down below,” some days after which “it all comes away.” At one point an anguished young woman asks what Vera means by this last phrase. Vera smiles brightly; she will not elaborate. It seems that she does not let herself think beyond her merciful acts to their grisly conclusion, rather as terms such as “pro-choice” cast abortion as something positive.
For example, Mike Leigh’s film, Vera Drake, another Oscar nominee (both for Mr Leigh as Best Director and Imelda Staunton as Best Actress) was picked up by some as a choice bit of “pro-choice” propaganda. “We have to make sure that on our watch, the clock doesn’t get turned back,” as Jatrice M. Gaiter, leader of Planned Parenthood of Washington, D.C. was quoted in The New York Times as saying. “This is a wake-up movie, a wake-up of consciousness to the stark reality that faces us.” No, Jatrice, if that is your real name, this is not a wake-up movie. It is a roll-over-and-go-back-to-sleep-and-dream-of-yesterday movie. Vera Drake almost miraculously cuts through decades of “wake-up” style propaganda to remind us, just for a moment, of a time when abortion was viewed with such horror, even by those who performed it, that its name could scarcely be mentioned.
Yet in vain was it for Mike Leigh to insist, in an interview with the Times reporter, that he had not intended his picture to be that kind of “abortion movie.” On the contrary, he had wanted the audience “to consider the moral issue of abortion” — something which would seem to require as a minimum condition that the audience see both sides of the question. That is of course the one thing that propaganda can never do. But so politicized has the culture become of late that the movie audience, in particular, seems at times to have got out in front of the movie-makers in the demand for one-sided, strident and artless propaganda. Don’t give us art! cry the liberal-minded masses. Don’t give us nuance, subtlety and intelligence! Give us the kind of mindless propaganda of which Michael Moore has become the premiere exponent. We are the rabble, after all. Rouse us!
And even if, like Mr Leigh, they resist this demand, their subtlety and intelligence will be treated as propaganda anyway. The issue is confused by the fact that there is propaganda in Vera Drake. It’s just not about abortion. It is, rather, the typical old-left class-war propaganda that you can find in most of Mike Leigh’s films. But this may be regarded as an artefact of the cinematic language he uses — something that is by now presumably so familiar to him that he doesn’t even know he’s doing it.
Interestingly, one of the things you’ll notice about pro-choice advocacy (usually in movies) is that it roots its emotional arguments in the past, when women couldn’t stop pregnancies, when they died far too easily, and when an out-of-wedlock pregnancy was the end of the world. Think back, for example, to 2004, when the movie Vera Drake opened to immense critical approval, was nominated for three Oscars, and won a whole slew of other awards. The movie tells the story of the saintlike Vera Drake, a loving wife and mother in the 1950s, who also provides pathetically poor, distressed women with abortions. The women getting abortions are all desperately in need of them — a mother of seven children, a rape victim, an isolated immigrant, a wife who had an affair while her husband was in Korea, etc. The movie also shows a rich girl getting away with a medical abortion, so as to emphasize the Marxist theory that the rich get richer and the poor get children. The dramatic tension in the movie comes about because Vera Drake is arrested and prosecuted for this then-illegal act.
Vera Drake is blatantly pro-choice, but also blatantly dishonest as an instrument in today’s debate. Both the troubles faced by the poor women and the advantages offered to the rich are no longer issues in today’s abortion debate.
part of a review by the Rightwing Film Geek:
I don’t know how attuned Leigh is to the abortion debate in the United States, but the film ducks some of the easiest pro-abortion talking points and makes many of the pro-life movement’s; (1) the abortion procedure Vera uses is basically injecting a soapy enema into the uterus in order to induce a miscarriage. But when asked by the police whether she ever used coat hangers or knitting needles, she blanches in horror at the thought; (2) nobody, including Vera herself, defends abortion in the abstract or utters a thought to the effect that abortion should be legal or displays any anachronistically-raised feminist consciousnesses (i.e., it is wrong to say Vera has any beliefs on the subject); (3) no legal consequences are ever threatened or even apparently contemplated for the mothers who abort, rebutting the most vicious boogie-man lie; (4) liberal film critics note (correctly as far as the point goes) that the film contrasts an upper-class woman’s getting medical exams to have what was then called a “therapeutic abortion” with Vera as abortionist to the working class. Or as Roger Ebert put it, “if you can afford a plane ticket and the medical bill you will always be able to obtain a competent abortion,” as if having to pay 50 times as much for a service is something good.
In fact, the only person to offer any abstract moral judgment is the son Sid, who says “it’s wrong though,” to his mother. She weakly says “I don’t think so,” and he angrily shoots back “of course it is. It’s little babies.” Sid is never rebutted, and his father eventually brings him back into the family fold by saying “she’s your mother. She’d forgive you anything” — a point which is perfectly true and perfectly valid for a son, but not for a citizen. Blood is thicker than water, but nobody even today thinks democratic republics operate on the basis of blood ties. Further, the father tells Sid, “I know you think she’s done bad things, but she’ll be punished enough for that.” That’s not the most-ringing endorsement of an abortionist one will hear today, and it points to how Leigh’s and his actors’ integrity in presenting the era prevents VERA DRAKE from being the pro-abortion propaganda film it’ll undoubtedly be unjustly loved and hated as. In fact, Sid’s blow-up at his mother is one of the movie’s only two or three moments of “authentic” feeling. In fact Sid explicitly plays to the contemporary choir by speaking in the name of today’s great value — authenticity. “Are we supposed to sit around, pretending to play Happy Families like nothing happened,” he asks.
Finally, the relationship of Vera’s obvious sainthood and her abortions is complex. VERA DRAKE is helped in this sense by being set in another era, which emphasizes the distances from the particulars surrounding the abortion wars of today. Practically the first thing the film does is establish Vera’s goodness — the first thing we see her do is attend to a sick neighbor, then invite a lonely man to dinner, saying “you can’t be having bread and drippings every day.” (She’s also taking care of a sick, elderly mother.) And Vera’s care for the elderly and sick distance her from today’s abortion advocates, who also (virtually to a man) advocate euthanasia on the same “autonomous self” basis as they do abortion (in fact, I saw the trailer for the reputedly toxic THE SEA INSIDE before VERA DRAKE). While Vera is portrayed as a kind of saint in most of her life, she is not one *because* she’s an abortionist or *in explicit spite of* that fact. The film refuses to set the two in opposition, choosing instead to see Vera as she sees herself — as someone whose whole being is wrapped into helping people, acting in service of others.
It would not be wholly wrong to also note there are guilty consciences here. None of Vera’s patients are as calm as she is, and one, a West Indian woman, almost appears offended that the abortion is not more traumatic. It shouldn’t be that easy, she seems to think. Plus, every reference to abortion is couched in euphemism, like the very objectless term “pro-choice” itself. Vera only tells her patients that “I’m here to help you” and when asked, her unrehearsedly rehearsed bedside manner tells them “it’ll all go away.” The word “baby,” of course, is never used. Nor (and this is more surprising) does she use the perfectly-unloaded word “miscarriage” … the closest she comes is “start the bleeding,” as if she’s just correcting a menstrual problem. Even when arrested, she can’t bring herself to tell her family. And when the police detective uses the word “abortion” for the first time in the film, Vera says, irrelevantly under the circumstances but as if preserving a point of honor for her: “that’s not what I do. That’s what you call it.”
And that’s to me, the key in answering how should a pro-life person should react to VERA DRAKE, beyond its (to me indisputable) excellence as a movie? One of the things often discussed in pro-life activism and even noted to people who pray Rosaries outside abortion clinics (as I’ve done) is to emphasize how abortion victimizes women, pointing to (among many other things and with exceptions like Barbara Ehrenreich duly noted) how many regret their abortions to at least some degree. VERA DRAKE does not say abortion is something to be proud of, and it ultimately defends the abortionist primarily in terms of family duty and the effect her jailing has on her family. The movie clearly wants you to feel sorry for Vera, but if God calls us to love the sinner, there is nothing scandalous or immoral about what this movies tries to (and largely does) achieve. As Bowman point out, as bad as hating the sin can be and which VERA DRAKE emphasizes, it’s usually preferable to pretending that sin is not sin.
The banality of Vera Drake’s evil:
Did Director Mike Leigh intentionallly make a pro-life movie?
by Jack Cashill:
In her reporting on the trial of a Nazi war criminal for The New Yorker, political theorist Hannah Arendt surprised and unnerved her readers. She did so by portraying Adolph Eichmann not as the monster readers had expected—or even hoped–to find. No, she showed them a man not unlike their co-workers or even themselves, a mediocrity, a petty bureaucrat, a classic suck-up just trying to keep his bosses happy.
Arendt used the phrase the “banality of evil” to describe Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust. In watching British director Mike Leigh’s justly acclaimed movie, Vera Drake, viewers may find themselves applying Arendt’s now famous phrase to the film’s eponymous heroine. The interesting question is whether Leigh intends them to do so.
In the way of plot summary, Vera Drake is a sweet and selfless wife, mother, cleaning lady, and back alley abortionist. She and her decent, loving husband, Stan, live a quietly cheerful life in the otherwise grim, cramped quarters of a post-war London flat. Sharing the flat are their two unmarried, adult children: Sid, a tailor and something of a playboy; and Ethel, a plain and painfully shy factory worker. Crowding the quarters even more is perennial guest, Reg, a deeply withdrawn bachelor. To a person, the family members eagerly nurture Reg’s interest in the slowly flowering Ethel.
None of the family knows anything of Vera’s sideline as an abortionist. She performs the abortions as she does any of the many good deeds she does in her everyday life—with relentless good cheer and without recompense. An unsavory abortion broker charges the women for Vera’s services, but she passes none of the money on to Vera. In Vera’s own mind, she’s “just helping out” when these hapless women “got no one else to turn to.” Her innocence may seem improbable, but Leigh makes it seem a credible and even necessary part of her character.Warning: those who do not wish to know the movie’s outcome, should stop here.
The typical art house audience pulls desperately for Vera. When the police find their way to Vera’s flat after a customer nearly dies from a botched abortion, viewers shudder on Vera’s behalf. In a parallel plot, Leigh has shown that the rich can procure a safe abortion by buying a mental health exception from a winking psychiatrist. The poor have no such recourse. When an unsmiling judge sentences Vera to two and a half years in prison, the audience is saddened, even outraged.
“Leigh’s point,” argues reviewer Roger Ebert in an entirely typical critical summary, “is that those with 100 pounds could legally obtain an abortion in England in 1950, and those with two pounds had to depend on Vera Drake, or on women not nearly as nice as Vera Drake.”
Yes, that much is true, but Leigh may have intended a deeper message still. This, remember, is post-war Britain. The men speak in hushed tones of the death they have seen abroad. The women speak in hushed tones of the death they have seen in the streets of London. In a Britain yearning for rebirth after the horrors of war and Holocaust, life is precious. Yet throughout this period, Vera has been quietly killing “babies,” a word that only a policeman uses and he for lack of any others. Indeed, in the previous twenty or so years, she has probably ended a thousand or more young lives. For her part, however, Vera cannot even bring herself to say out loud what she has been doing.
Scrupulously fair, Leigh presents the police as impressively humane and the courts as just, if a bit cold. Nor does he present the women facing abortions as the “piteous” victims Ebert and other critics claim them to be. One, a smartly dressed party girl, casually admits that this abortion is not her first. Another attractive young woman has betrayed a husband fighting in Korea and needs to dispose of the evidence. Others have husbands or boyfriends who care but are shut out of the decision-making process. In every case, the women seek abortions not as a matter of life or death, but to avoid inconvenience or embarrassment or further impoverishment. The only rape victim—and that a “date rape”–is the rich girl who gets the psychiatric exemption.
In the movie’s most telling scene, Vera comes to the dismal flat of a young, frightened West Indian. While Vera goes about her cheerful preparations, this lonely black woman tells Vera of her fear and isolation and pleads with her to come back to help. No, Vera tells the woman as blithely as she tells the others. There is no need. The young woman has only to make her way to the toilet in a day or two and flush the problem away. It’s that simple. In no case, not even this one, does Vera go back to check on her patients, and she never gives her name.
In only one case does a client recognize Vera, and that is the mother of the girl who almost dies. In fact, the girl would have died had not the mother finally relented and called the doctor. Only reluctantly, does the mother finger Vera. At this point, the audience has every reason to believe that other women might have fallen ill as well, the West Indian girl especially. There was nothing unusual about the botched abortion, and the West Indian had no one to call to save her if hers too had gone badly.
What moves the audience, even those hostile to Vera’s calling, is the shattering effect of her arrest on her entirely sympathetic family. Of note, although her husband and children lend Vera their emotional support, none among them excuses her actions or protests her sentence. The only person who does come to her defense is the slightly daft neighbor who has been shyly wooing Vera’s daughter, Ethel.
Reg explains that he grew up as one of six children in two cramped rooms and says sympathetically, “If you can’t feed them, you can’t love them.” Reg, however, somehow got fed and got loved. His charming courtship of Ethel provides an essential plot line. Upon Vera’s arrest, the viewer worries more that Reg will abandon Ethel than that Vera will go to prison. Happily, he does not. The inescapable irony, however, is that had there been a Vera Drake in the life of Reg’s mother, there would have been no Reg to woo Ethel.
Ironically, too, when not killing the unborn, Vera herself is a veritable life force. It is she who brings nourishment and nurture to a series of shut-ins, her mother included. These lonely souls would experience little of either without her. Indeed, Leigh seems to be saying that one can find happiness anywhere, that all lives are worth living, even the poorest and most seemingly hopeless.
New York Times reviewer, Manohla Dargis, underestimates the film’s writer/director, claiming, “It’s clear where Mr. Leigh stands,” No, it is not clear at all. In interviews, Mike Leigh has been as deftly ambivalent as he in this excerpt from an indieWIRE interview:
Of course, I’d take a pro-life position. Of course, I think it’s an overpopulated, shrinking planet and I think it’s disastrous that unloved children are born in this chaotic world. But on the other hand, [abortion] is traumatic, disastrous and you are destroying life. But I’m concerned with filmmaking, not politics. I’m concerned with making a film that confronts the audience with a dilemma.
Of note, Leigh dedicates this film to the ”loving memory of my parents, a doctor and a midwife.” No one dares to challenge a dedication to one’s parents, even those whose professions are life and birth. Had Leigh been more explicitly pro-life in his interviews, he would have alienated the critics who can make or break the film. Better that they confront the dilemma themselves.
Pro-life advocates should not avoid this movie because of its subject matter. Their voices are needed to frame the debate. When the Times’ Dargis remarks, “In the end Vera performs abortions simply because, as she repeatedly says, she wants to help other women,” someone needs to remind Dargis of the emptiness of that claim. In the end, after all, Eichmann sent Jews to the gas chamber because he was “only following orders.” Evil is sometimes that banal.
Mike Leigh is known to use unusual methods to achieve realism in his films. “Leigh’s actors literally have to find their characters through improvisation and research the ways people in specific communities speak and behave. Leigh and his cast immerse themselves in the local life before creating the story” (1994: 7: Watson 29). Critic Roger Ebert explains:
His method is to gather a cast for weeks or months of improvisation in which they create and explore their characters. I don’t think the technique has ever worked better than here; the family life in those cramped little rooms is so palpably real that as the others wait around the dining table while Vera speaks to policeman behind the kitchen door, I felt as if I were waiting there with them. It’s not that we ‘identify’ so much as that the film quietly and firmly includes us.
Leigh often uses improvisation in order to capture his actors’ unscripted emotions. When filming Vera Drake, only Imelda Staunton knew ahead of time that the subject of the film was abortion. None of the cast members playing the family members, including Staunton, knew that Vera was to be arrested until the moment the actors playing the police knocked on the door of the house they were using for rehearsals. Their genuine reactions of shock and confusion provided the raw material for their dialogue and actions.
A generous, big-hearted mother in post-World War II England spends her days cleaning people’s homes and her evenings at home with her mechanic husband and two grown children.
During her spare time, the title character of “Vera Drake” – the new film by Britain’s kitchen-sink realist Mike Leigh – helps out women in trouble. She performs abortions, which, in 1950, are criminal offenses. Vera takes no money. She never speaks the word aloud. Her family has no inkling that mum engages in this practice. Toward the end of “Vera Drake,” they’ll find out.
Leigh’s film opens at a time when the already-divisive abortion question has burned particularly hot during the recently concluded presidential debates. Leigh, who lives in England, has been watching. And occasionally seething. The timing of “Vera Drake’s” release is fortuitous and, to some extent, deliberate.
When it’s mentioned that the abortion-rights organization Planned Parenthood Federation of America plans to hold screenings of “Vera Drake,” Leigh replies, “There you go. If it’s going to be hijacked by factions, fair enough.”
“It’s true that we did calculate when we decided to make the film 2 1/2 years ago that if all went according to plan, it could probably be released in this stage right about now,” continues the Oscar-nominated writer/director. “But at the same time, of course, it’s not an American issue. It’s about a fundamental universal set of dilemmas.”
Imelda Staunton, who took home the best-actress award at the Venice International Film Festival for her performance as Vera, agrees with her director. “Vera Drake” should get people talking, she says.
“In the film, there’s no religion, there’s no politics. It’s just the `thing,’ ” says Staunton, a frequent character player in films that include “Shakespeare in Love,” “Peter’s Friends” and “Sense and Sensibility.” “It’s difficult, complex, upsetting and all those things. It should be looked at. I think that film just probably shows what it would be like if it becomes illegal. But legal or illegal, it’s always going to be here.”
The film has been on the radar screen of administrators at Planned Parenthood since its inception. In the days prior to the film’s opening, Planned Parenthood will host screenings and Q&A sessions with celebrity board members Patricia Clarkson and Gloria Steinem.
`Clearly the story it tells is an important one,” says Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt. `It’s an important piece of women’s history and an important piece of reproductive rights’ history – and an important cautionary tale for our current political environment.”
Leigh and Staunton have been discussing abortion practically nonstop since “Vera Drake,” which opened Friday, took top honors at Venice early this year. Which is a bit ironic considering that during the months of preparation and rehearsal that a Mike Leigh film requires, the topic was barely broached, much less dissected.
Since she was playing the title character, Staunton knew little more than that she was involved in a film set in the 1950s and concerning abortion. She would learn the rest during a six-month rehearsal process at – among other locations – an abandoned north London hospital. With no script to follow or lines to learn, Staunton and actors Phil Davis, Alex Kelly and Daniel Mays spent months living as a family – improvising, researching and discussing and ultimately creating their characters along the way.
Until she saw the completed film at a screening, for example, Staunton didn’t know that a character named Susan (played by Sally Hawkins), the upper-middle-class daughter in a home where Vera works, goes through a pregnancy termination at an expensive private clinic. Nor did Staunton – as Vera – know that the story called for the police to arrive at the Drake household. When they do, audiences see Vera’s spontaneous reaction.
“No one in my family knew what I was doing. You don’t speak to anyone on the outside,” says Staunton. “You don’t speak to the other actors about it. You only speak with Mike. And I have to tell you that early in the year, I had to do an electronic press kit, and I absolutely could not say the word ‘abortion.’ I had spent a year not telling anyone. Not only did I have the secret as Vera, but I also couldn’t speak. It was really hard.”
Not so hard, however, that Staunton wouldn’t re-up for another Mike Leigh film. Where preparation and research are concerned, she says Leigh’s films are unprecedented. “Nothing can touch it. Nothing.”
For more than three decades, Leigh has been using the same technique (or “process”) to craft both his plays and films. The Salford, England-born director, 61, made his film debut with “Bleak Moments” in 1971. Much of his early work was in British television. International acclaim came with films like “High Hopes” (1988), “Life Is Sweet” (1991) and “Naked” (1993). For 1996’s “Secrets and Lies,” about a black woman looking to reconnect with her white birth mother, Leigh received a pair of Oscar nominations. He received a third for his script for 1999’s Gilbert and Sullivan tale, “Topsy-Turvy.”
“Vera Drake,” the director’s first film since 2002’s “All or Nothing,” is dedicated to Leigh’s parents – a physician father and midwife mother. When Leigh was growing up, he said, his father never discussed abortions, although as a physician he would almost certainly have been called in to assist a botched pregnancy termination.
`Making the film last year, I would have loved to have talked to my old man about his recollections of some of those issues,” says Leigh, whose father died in 1985. “I would doubt that he did terminations. I would seriously doubt it, and this is not something that (my mother) could have had a conversation about in living memory. Not with me.”
Since so many of his films deal with parents, children and “the way we live,” Leigh says a film that touches on the issue of abortion has been kicking around his brain for several years.
“It’s not as if I was walking down the street and a woman jumped out of the 29th floor and landed on the sidewalk and I thought, ‘Hey! An abortion movie!’ ” says Leigh, whose next project will be a new play at the Royal National Theatre. “This has been a notion for a film for a very long time. I was 24 when the law changed (England’s Abortion Act of 1967 legalizing the procedure), and I remember it. So it’s an inevitable thing for me to deal with.”
part of an article by Charlotte O’Sullivan at The Independent:
That a film like Vera Drake can be made, distributed and talked up as an Oscar contender is a triumph – a sign that the evangelical right can’t always get what it wants. In so many ways, however, Vera Drake sounds like something we’ve seen before. Like Dr Larch, Vera exists safely in the past. Like Larch, she’s ultimately a victim (it’s the tragic consequences for her family – when her job is made public – that take up most of the film). Sentiment and heroism are fine and dandy, but we need a greater variety of “plots” when it comes to this subject. Forty-three per cent of US women will end at least one pregnancy by the age of 45. In the UK, roughly 25 per cent of all conceptions lead to abortion. Wouldn’t it be good to see more of these messy/ mundane/ugly/beautiful realities up on screen?