{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Vera Drake

The tagline of the film says - Wife. Mother. Criminal. , but for sure Mike Leigh is not interested in trifurcating Vera Drake into these boundaries or joining these three into one character. Its the humanity of Vera and the film that touches us. Here is a simple story of a old woman who helps young woman out, alongside being a mother, wife and a daughter.

The film is clearly divided into two parts - the one where Vera do what she thinks right, and the other where law do what it deems lawful. The debate whether she is right, or law lawful are skipped, there is no statements of sorts. The moral fulcrum of the film lies in the eyes of Vera, played with amazing beauty by Imelda Staunton. In one of most absorbing performances, Imelda Staunton plays Vera with so much common-ness that her quagmire mirror the times she live in, and also to some extent touches the ideas of social acceptance of personal morality. When asked by a detective whether she performs abortions, she says that she don't understand what he is saying, she says she just helps out wretched girls in trouble. No doubt, she is part of some bigger game, which caters the upper class and she is being used, but Vera assistance to girls and women who need some help, is purely personal. Like other such films (Talk to Her, Dancer in the Dark), Vera looses the battle with law.

Towards the second half, the film veers into full fledged melodrama, like the complete turn in Vera's life. Although Vera understands her fate, but she is more worried about her family, and Leigh paints this film about humanity with master strokes, with the help of an excellent cast. The leading among them is Imelda Staunton, whose one look, when the detective come to arrest her during the Christmas party, is more than devastating in a split-second, to say the least. That one look provides such complex feeling of care for the family and acknowledgement of the danger on the doorsteps, danger that will not only engulf her and her respect but her family also. Others in cast are also excellent, especially the odd couple Ethel (Vera's mousy daughter who works in a Bulb testing factory, played by Alex Kelly) and Reg (a lonely neighbor, whom Vera invites at home, played by Eddie Marsan). Reg provides the emotional high point of the film when he thanks Vera for the Christmas party and declares it "Smashing", its seems to be the sincerest form of gratitude to Vera (and at the time Vera needed it most). He, later in the film, even defends Vera for her stand in his simple statement, 'It's all right for the rich if you've got six kids, but if you can't feed them, you can't love them.' Mike Leigh is master in making such credulous characters without even a hint of caricature or stereotyping.

At one point, I thought that Leigh has set up stage for first gaining sympathy for all-good Vera, innocent mother helping all others and then using this sympathy to bring forth emotions as Vera is convicted. But I think there is something wrong in this logic. Her decision to do abortions may be because of several reasons (at one point when the detective asks her whether she was raped when young, she starts weeping) and Vera's goodness is not to cover that up, never in the film, her goodness tries to cry out of a scene. I am not too sure about this, one line of thought may be that she could be made not so good (having some rough edges) and then the response to her actions may be more equivocal than for the all-good Vera, but having said this, Vera's character comes out so real and believable, every detail of her character smells of stoic compassion, that I would not like to doubt director's intentions.

This film is not without a moral center, it is not neutral or just observational, but the film is more interested in the nature of family, humanity and morality. Vera Drake is a film about an issue, without either being condescending, preachy or falsely pretentious but more importantly, its a story about a good person and her world (society), and what it takes to be so. Vera Drake lets us believe that such people exists.

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