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Mike Leigh's latest drama takes place on his home turf within the complex relations, lies...
Mike Leigh's latest drama takes place on his home turf within the complex relations, lies and inner lives of families. Kind hearted Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is a fuddy-duddy housewife, keeping a modest, happy home in 1950s Britain. Still affected by post war poverty and simplistic morality, Vera outwardly seems to adhere to every black and white social standard of the day. But in her spare time Vera performs secret, illegal abortions for poor girls who find themselves "in trouble".
This is truly an actors' showcase, and every single performance in Leigh's ensemble drama is seamlessly believable. And though Vera's story feels the slightest bit convoluted when compared to Leigh's more biting character studies, it is a small slice of an extraordinary life that, in its final scenes, reveals itself as just the tip of the iceberg of a complex social problem.
But Leigh is never heavy handed with the "issues" he's addressing. Instead he lets short, sharp scenes documenting the routines of bureaucratic judges, wealthy-verus-poor families, unsympathetic doctors and rhetoric-obsessed psychiatrists speak volumes. And while Vera is oddly unsympathetic in her treatment of the young women she helps, when she's left helpless in the hands of a legal system utterly intolerant of her motivations, the complexity of her compassion is beautifully revealed.
This outstandingly well crafted period piece is so authentic in its scenery, costumes and dialogue that it feels every bit a true story. Languid and matter-of-fact, Vera Drake is not worked for maximum melodrama, but that is ultimately to its great credit.