Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake" won the Golden Lion - at the 61st Venice International Film Festival, presided over by John Boorman, jury president. The acting performances are impeccable. Imelda Staunton who plays Vera Drake, a midwife in the 1950's prosecuted for "helping young girls and women in trouble" won the Coppa Volpi, best actress award.
"Vera Drake" treats a woman who induces home remedy abortions outside the medical establishment and has a different tune regarding directorial culpability for the subject matter. "It is not for me to explain "Vera Drake". The moral dilemmas my film seeks to pose are not easy to resolve, and it is for each of us to confront these issues with an open mind, and without losing our firm grip on reality". The UK director says that his flms surrounds parents and childen. Leigh sets the tale in the 1950's where abortion laws stem from 1814 in order to not "engage in crude propaganda". Abortion is now legal in the UK but Leigh stresses that it is still a highly debatable global issue such as in the US where conservative factions are keen on repealing the prochoice constitutional amendment and adding others such as banning gay marriages. So indeed the film is a timely one.
The art direction of the film is exquisite and the historical period is shown with a profusion of dark green and brown colors.
Mike Leigh remarked in Venice upon receiving the award "In a cynical world, it is a wonderful thing when serious, committed independent European films are recognized, encouraged and helped to reach their audience." The UK director also thanked the Cannes Film Festival for rejecting the film in May .
'Vera Drake' is a pristine exploration of a nuclear family, seemingly stuffed in a bedsitter with a kitchen alcove. Vera is always ready to put on a cup of tea, and works as a cleaning lady in several upperclass homes, calling attention to the simplity of her lifestyle. Her son tries to aspire out of his class and works in a gentleman„s clothing store. The way that Leigh zeros in on the different kinds of women who for various reasons must terminate pregnancy goes over class lines.
Leigh is brilliant in showing how women take care of one another even if there is some obvious exploitation of Vera„s services by a middle person who takes the money and gives her discounts on sugar or other staples.
Like the US, the medical profession in the UK wanted to have exclusive turf for 'regular' doctors and forbidding abortion was one way to get the homeopaths and midwives out of medicine in the 19th century--hence the 1814 statute is used against her. It should come as no surprise that Vera is practicing a home remedy that has worked for centuries --what is called „quickening„ to terminate pregnancy and which was common practice before the likes of the elitist AMA and the moralists of today.
For Movie Magazine This is Moira Sullivan, Venice Italy
© 2004 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/04
UK/France/New Zealand - 2004