Of ‘Vera Drake’ and lost innocence
Vera Drake’ the movie and the character is the best of all that is British. The movie was nominated for three Oscar’s. Imelda Stauton Best Actress, Writer-Director Mike Leigh for Best Director and for writing the Best Original Screenplay.
Vera Drake, the character is typical of the 50’s in which the movie is set. She is a lower-middle-class English housewife who we meet looking after an invalid, inviting a young, lonely neighbor for dinner, working hard as a cleaning lady in the houses of rich people, sewing and helping a young women in trouble to end her pregnancy.
Mike Leigh who is a genius, equates the help she gives to the invalid, the lonely young man with the help she gives troubled pregnant women, with no moral difference. Vera Drake simply wants to lessen suffering.
We meet Vera with her husband, her two grown children, a neighbour, her husband’s brother and his bitchy wife at the Drake home. We meet Vera one on one with individuals in the family and with friends and we see her giving them the same sense of caring as she gives girls and women in trouble. Vera Drake is cheerful loving and giving to everyone because she is a helpful kind of person.
Mike Leigh does not make her a saint, Mike Leigh makes her ordinary and with that down-to-earth quality she and her family must have to cope as something goes wrong and her life begins to unravel. Not once in the harshness that follows does Vera Drake see herself as an abortionist. She’s, as she puts it, someone who helps young girls.
Mike Leigh has a unique way of directing which actress Imelda Stauton describes by saying, ‘’He never has a script, not even when you’re filming. So you only do it there on the day, in however many hours, and that’s all you do. You don’t have to go home and learn any lines. Heaven.’’
Of her character, Vera Drake Stauton says, ‘’She’s a woman who doesn’t think about herself and genuinely wants to help other people for no gain.’’
Critic Tom Brook adds, ‘’But Staunton is not the only star of this film, so is the art direction, the attention to period detail and the cinematography creates a mood that evokes 1950’s Britain very effectively. With ‘Vera Drake’, Leigh’s created a fabulous creature, and a woman with whom most of us would like to share a cup of tea’’.
For me it is rewarding to see British film and actors coming into their own once again. Barbara Hewitt, the director of the British Council, kindly lent me a number of old movies to watch with greats like Alec Guinness, the young Peter Sellers. And I have been watching Hitchcock who was British. And there are the misnamed ‘’Chick Flicks’’ like, ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’ and ‘Love Actually’… In a strange way Vera Drake and Mike Leigh are what all these, and many more, ‘Pinewood’ (the name of one of the earliest British studios) movies have led up to. Sheer brilliance.
Even American critics who see Mike Leigh as subversive, anti-establishment and uncomfortably challenging hailed Vera Drake unconditionally.
Said Bret Fetzer, ‘’Vera Drake isn’t just an inspired character portrait; through simple and straightforward scenes, the movie weaves a quiet but mesmerising portrait of how people — both wealthy and poor — cope with adversity. Though wrenching, Vera Drake has too much life to be depressing.’’