8:00 PM, 1st September, 2005
Mike Leigh is one of the most respected non-American directors working outside Hollywood these days. Films like Life is Sweet and Naked have won many awards, and the 1996 Oscar-nominated Secrets and Lies is widely considered his masterpiece. And now there's Vera Drake.
The title character (played superbly by Staunton) is your standard 50s London, working-class housewife and mother - except that she performs illegal abortions for girls "in trouble", which is kept secret from her immediate family. Complications in one of her clients bring on devastating results.
This, in my opinion, is Leigh's best work ever. He has remained in period pieces (after 1999's Topsy-Turvy), but kept his working class characters and dilemmas from earlier films to tell a story that you cannot help but be moved by. Vera Drake won Best Film and Actress at Venice last year, Staunton won many critics' awards, and both her and Leigh were nominated at this year's Oscars. (Phil Davis, who plays Mr. Drake, should have been nominated as well). This is not a feel-good film, but it is a brilliant one, not to be missed.