Mike Leigh’s 2002 film All or Nothing though well regarded had been over looked for major plaudits at awards time and having earned just $2.8m worldwide from a $9m budget it was something of a flop. His next film in 2004 would be Vera Drake, a period piece going back to 1950’s England and would again feature working class people in troubled times except here its subject matter was even more grim. Imelda Taunton played the title role secretly helping women to induce miscarriages for unwanted pregnancies yet as with all of Leigh’s work at the centre of this was a compassionate human story of a selfless woman dedicated to her family and caring for a sick neighbour and yet her secret sideline conflicted with the law at the time with it culminating in police action.
Like all of Mike Leigh’s films the characters and plot had been worked out in rehearsal and improvisation for months and months previous to the actual shooting of the film. Yet one detail of what Vera Drake was secretly doing had been withheld from the rest of the cast and revealed only when the scene was rehearsed in what turned out to be an 11 hour improvisation where the actors playing the officers arrived to break the news during a family celebration with the cast left to play out the scene and improvise in character.
A great cast had once again been assembled by Leigh that included Jim Broadbent, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, Lesley Manville, Phil Davies, Sally Hawkins and Chris O’Dowd. Despite its dour subject Vera Drake was a huge hit earning over $13m worldwide and even though it was Oscar nominated Imelda Staunton and Mike Leigh both would lose out to Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood for Billion Dollar Baby.
The new release on blu-ray only has two bonus features – an interview with Leigh about the film and another with the cast but both are excellent. The subject matter may turn away those with strong views on abortion and the film makes clear its position that this is a sympathetic woman doing what she believes is right to help out women in an era before the 1967 abortion act came into effect. However, Vera Drake, though it has its upsetting and at times distressing scenes , is one of Mike Leigh’s very best films
Here’s the Vera Drake trailer…..
VERA DRAKE IS OUT ON BLU-RAY NOW