Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
United Kingdom/France/New Zealand, 2004. Les Films Alain Sarde, Film Council, Inside Track Productions, Thin Man Films, Film Council Premiere Fund, Ingenious Film Partners, Inside Track 1, National Lottery through UK Film Council, Untitled 03. Screenplay by Mike Leigh. Cinematography by Dick Pope. Produced by Simon Channing Williams, Alain Sarde. Music by Andrew Dickson. Production Design by Eve Stewart. Costume Design by Jacqueline Durran. Film Editing by Jim Clark. Academy Awards 2004. Golden Globe Awards 2004. National Board of Review Awards 2004. New York Film Critics Awards 2004. Washington Film Critics Awards 2004.
A regular 1950s housewife in working-class London, Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) goes about her job as charwoman for various wealthy houses in London, fitting in domestic duties for ailing friends as well as taking care of her aging mother before going home to do all her duties for her loving husband and two children, all of it with a smile on her face and a bounce in her step. The part of her life that no one in her family is aware of is her frequent visits to desperate pregnant women, many of them young teenagers, who need abortions to escape the wrath of their family, the rejection of their society, or the worsening of their already dire economic circumstances. Drake has performed the procedure on countless young women for years before an unfortunate incident with a girl who nearly dies gets her caught by the police and brought in on criminal charges. This quietly-told, perfectly acted melodrama benefits from Mike Leigh’s impeccable writing and unwavering direction, not to mention a sterling cast and an awe-inspiring performance by Staunton in the lead. The film’s main theme will doubtless be controversial, but it wisely chooses not to argue the morality of abortion itself and instead examines the situations that bring about the desire for them in the first place. Almost all the women in this film are trying to save their own lives by risking them in order to to get out of a socially demonized position, and Drake is helping them out of the goodness of her heart (she never charges any money for her services). Unforgettable filmmaking, and one of the year’s best.