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Movie Review: Vera Drake

by Sabrina Michelena

Vera Drake stars Imelda Staunton, who won a BAFTA award for Best Actress in Leading Role and the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for this film. She was also nominated for the Academy Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in this movie. Imelda Staunton has been in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, playing Dolores Umbridge, the notoriously evil teacher in the film. She has also starred in several plays and musicals in London, such as, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Sweeney Todd”, and “Good People.” She has been nominated for thirteen Olivier Awards during her stage career.

The British period drama movie, Vera Drake, details the story of a working-class mother named Vera (Imelda Staunton), in the 1950’s, who secretly performs abortions. In the UK, abortion was completely illegal until the Abortion Act 1967, passed in 1967, which legalized abortion but restricted it up until 23 weeks. Vera Drake is a devoted mother to her adult children and is shown to be a very kind person. She looks after her sick neighbor often, checking in with him several times a day to see how he’s doing. She takes care of her mother sometimes, who is elderly and ill. In the beginning of the movie, she is seen worrying about a neighbor who is a veteran from the war, telling him to come over for dinner if he is lonely, which then becomes a regular occasion. During her day job as a house cleaner, she sometimes offers small acts of kindness or worries if she’s in her client’s way. Her husband describes her as having a “heart of gold” a few times throughout the movie.

The movie sets a realistic portrayal of being a woman in the 1950’s. Vera Drake, a mother, makes dinner every night and generously serves anyone welcome to the house. Vera’s daughter is often in charge of taking everyone’s coats when there are guests, and later handing their coats back to them when they leave. It also accurately portrays the risk of being an abortionist in the 1950’s. Many times throughout the movie, the viewer fears someone will enter the room and catch Vera performing an abortion. The patients often fear for their lives before Vera begins the process, bringing attention to the fact that the technology was far less advanced as it is now and people could very easily become seriously ill from these unliscensed abortions. Yet, they put their lives at risk and confided in Vera to terminate something that could negatively affect their lives, in some cases.

This movie is historically accurate, painfully honest, and extremely well-acted. It’s a movie that causes the viewer to understand the bravery of Vera Drake, among many women during that time who performed abortions. They risked their relationships with people, their reputation, and their freedom just to lend a helping hand to fellow women in need. Vera Drake is a movie everyone should watch at least once in their lives to understand the struggle women went through in the past to receive an abortion and the risk of being an abortionist in the 1950’s.

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