Vera Drake (2004)
Director: Mike Leigh.
Starring: Imelda Staunton (Vera), Richard Graham (George), Eddie Marsan (Reg), Anna Keaveney (Nellie), Alex Kelly (Ethel), Daniel Mays (Sid), Philip Davis (Stan), Lesley Manville (Mrs. Wells), Sally Hawkins (Susan), Simon Chandler (Mr Wells), Sam Troughton (David), Marion Bailey (Mrs Fowler), Sandra Voe (Vera's mother), Chris O'Dowd (Sid's customer), Adrian Scarborough (Frank).
Vera Drake is n English wife and mother of two children, Sid and Ethel. She works as a maid to supplement the income from her husband's repair shop. Their extended family would include Vera's mother, who lives on her own, and her husband's brother Frank and his wife Joyce. For no charge, she helps poorer women with few options to abort the fetus. Her family knows nothing about the part of her life.
The daughter of a well-off woman is raped and becomes pregnant. She then simply goes to her doctor who checks her out physically and then sends her over to a psychiatrist. With the psychiatrist's o.k., she has an operation in a safe, sanitary medical facility with the support of nurses. But poor women could not afford this kind of expense and many were permanently damaged by trying to given themselves an abortion.
Vera has probably done these abortions for around 20 years and never had a problem. But one day one of her patients takes a very bad turn for the worse and her mother has to call the medical doctor. The doctor is suspicious that the young woman tried to abort her fetus and he presses the mother for an answer. The mother does not want to rat on Vera, but the doctor persists saying that legally it his duty to report any suspected case of abortion and that if she does not talk to him, the police will talk to her. So she finally caves and gives the police Vera's name.
The police arrive at Vera's house when the family is celebrating Christmas. They are all shocked that the police are there and even more shocked when the police start questioning the very sweet and self-less Vera. And another shock comes when Vera is arrested.
And oh, how solemn everyone is. The police and the judge all say that Vera has committed a very serious crime, one of the most serious offenses on the calendar.
Vera is also in shock. She is also filled with shame. She accepts all those backward values of the 1950s concerning sex and reproduction. Perhaps she is both too shocked and too ashamed to defend herself, which she makes no attempt to do. And her family is no help whatsoever. Her son Sid and her sister-in-law Joyce are moralists, that is, people that denounce others as wicked for even rather minor violations of ethics and the law. (I guess they never heard the phrase "hate the sin, not the sinner" for they condemn both the sin and the sinner.) Vera's too quiet daughter just cries over the situation and her husband and brother-in-law are too shocked and concerned for what others might say to provide Vera with any comfort and support.
You just want to shake all the family members and tell them, first of all, that this is not the end of the world. Even if Vera goes to prison, the family can survive and go on with their lives. It may be harder to live after the discovery than before, but many a person has come back from adversity. The family should be told that they need to be supportive of Vera and help her though this terrible situation. (Only Reg, the future son-in-law, says a couple of things that are somewhat supportive, stating the injustice of the different reactions to abortion based on social class and thanking Vera for a lovely party: "smashing".)
What was once regarded as a crime, the right to an abortion is now seen as a fundamental freedom for women. (It is interesting that no one in the movie even thought about protesting against the denial of the right for a woman to abort a fetus. Those were some backward days.)
Before the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s even the advanced industrial societies were in the sexual dark ages. I personally remember how hard it was for anyone to talk about sex openly before that time. Sex was something dark and secretive; not to be discussed in decent families. The Vera Drake movie set in 1950 England reminds of those awful days of ignorance and silence about sex.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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