VERA DRAKE (15)
D: Mike Leigh
Momentum/Thin Man (Simon Channing-Williams)
UK 🇬🇧 2004
W: Mike Leigh
DP: Dick Pope
Ed: Jim Clark
Mus: Andrew Dickson
Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), Phil Davis (Stan Drake), Daniel Mays (Sid), Alex Kelly (Ethel), Eddie Marsan (Reg), Sally Hawkins (Susan), Heather Craney (Joyce)
Mike Leigh is a filmmaker whose works focus on serious issues and often depressing themes, but it has to be said that he gets the absolute best out of his cast to deliver some breathtaking performances, especially when you consider much of his work is done without a screenplay and dialogue is frequently improvised.
Set in 1950's London, Vera Drake is domestic help who also "helps young girls" that have an unwanted pregnancy. The focus is mostly on Vera's family life, living with her mechanic husband, her tailor son and shy daughter who is courting an equally shy neighbour.
The daughter of a wealthy socialite is raped by a suitor and comes to Vera for help, but when the operation puts the young girl in hospital, Drake is arrested and faces imprisonment for carrying out abortions, a practice that was highly illegal at the time in Britain.
Though the story could be considered soap opera material, the performances lift this into a perfectly cinematic drama, helped with Mike Leigh's recreation of the period and leaving politics aside to allow the audience to decide whether the lead character's actions were right or wrong.
Imelda Staunton's performance won a Bafta and was nominated for an Oscar, and probably would have won the latter had the film been released any other year (she lost to Million Dollar Baby's Hilary Swank).
A rather curious nomination come awards time was for Mike Leigh's screenplay, since the film didn't have one. It really should have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, since it is easily amongst the best films released in 2004.