6 November 2004 | jotix100
Being kind, no matter how.
The key for understanding the character of Vera Drake is "dear". Vera is one of the kindest souls one will ever see in pictures in a long, long time. Vera Drake is a woman who will go out of her way to be of use to anyone that needs her. In fact, one's initial reaction to Mrs. Drake's activities is one of complete disbelief.
Mike Leigh has created a film that, although not easy to sit through, is one of the finest movies that have come out of the English cinema in a long time. This director keeps getting better with every new film. The subject of the film is something that has been at the heart of the recent elections in the USA. With the new climate in this country it's easy to see that situations like the ones we see in the story, could well be the norm here in a not too distant future.
The main, and perhaps the only, reason for watching this extraordinary film is the portrayal of Vera by that wonderful actress, Imelda Staunton. Her Vera is an example a person who can't say no to anyone in need. There is a scene when Vera is first confronted by the police during a dinner at her house where we see her face as charges are hurled at her, then little by little, Ms. Staunton breaks down in what is one of the great moments in acting by any actress in living memory. One can see her eyes fill with tears because it suddenly dawns on Vera the immensity of what she has done.
The action takes place in 1950 in a London still ravaged by the effect of WWII. The film recreates the era with great details. Vera's flat is so tiny, one wonders how can four grown up people live in such cramped quarters. Even though they are poor, the Drake household is happy, as they all live together without apparently getting on each other's nerves. Both children, Ethel and Sid are well behaved; they both love their parents. Stan and Vera love one another in a subdued, but caring way. Is it possible that Vera could be the monster she is accused of being?
The film also makes a point of the contrast between the humble way in which the Drakes live and the rich houses where Vera goes to work every day. Vera's home is tiny and the others are so well appointed, it is only natural to assume that Vera will bear a resentment toward her employers, but on the contrary, she is a dignified woman who makes do with her meager wages.
There is also the irony about how Susan Wells, the daughter of one of Vera's employers, goes through the same thing that the other girls that Vera "helps", and everything is done in a civilized way. Mr. Leigh shows us in this case how things are different because Susan is able to buy a solution to her problem and deal with it safely.
The ensemble cast is marvelous. Imelda Staunton dominates the movie. We can't take our eyes away from the dowdy and plain woman we see on the screen. Phil Davis as Stan, Vera's husband, is excellent. Alex Kelly plays the mousy daughter Ethel, who never utters a word; this actress makes her real. Daniel Mays is Sid, the son who can't understand what his mother has done. Eddie Marsan as Reg, makes his character believable.
The film is a triumph for Mike Leigh.