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With: Imelda Staunton, Phil Davis, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly, Eddie Marsan, Sally Hawkins
Written by: Mike Leigh
Directed by: Mike Leigh
MPAA Rating: R for depiction of strong thematic material
Running Time: 125
Date: 09/06/2004

Vera Drake (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Girl in Trouble

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bustling around drizzly, post-WWII London with a happy, doughy face andgleaming eyes, Vera (Imelda Staunton) works as a floor-scrubber for thewealthy, humming to herself and calling everyone "dear." Shelives in a graying flat with her auto mechanic husband (Phil Davis) andher grown son (Daniel Mays) and daughter (Alex Kelly). When she subtlyplays matchmaker for her shy, homely daughter by inviting a poor,reserved bachelor and war veteran (Eddie Marsan) over for some realfood; their awkward walk together in a park is one of this movie'soddest delights.

For Vera, no problem is ever so great that a nice cup of tea can't solve it; she often visits ailing neighbors and occasionally helps expectant girls by performing homespun abortions. When one of these patients almost dies, Vera is arrested and tried for her "crime."

Writer/director Mike Leigh shapes the superb Vera Drake as a repressed working-class companion to his All or Nothing (2002), establishing a vivid place and time but offering little in the way of comfort or comment. Leigh contrasts Vera's story with that of a well-heeled girl (Sally Hawkins) who goes through proper channels for her abortion and suffers from crushing, psychological shame.

The film's bizarre structure, starting with tons of exposition and character development, and spiraling into a courtroom drama magically works through Leigh's even-keeled touch.

As with David Thewlis in Naked, Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies and others, the centerpiece performance is a revelation. Staunton's performance radiates with glazed, dewy shock as she teeters into the film's wrenching final scene.

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