The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A letter to Vera

with 12 comments

Vera Drake. How shall I describe you?

If I call you a hero, people will picture you as a fighter with a sword in your hand. But your hands were soft and all you used was hot water.

If I call you a protector of women’s rights, they’ll place you in the front of a demonstration carrying a banner, loudly making your voice heard about what’s wrong in society. But you never said a word to anyone about what you were doing. You did what you did quietly, for no charge, for no ego boost. All you wanted to do was to help the women that no one else wanted to help.

Your smallness, your age and your vulnerability misleads people to assume that you’re powerless. In fact you have super powers that keep an entire neighborhood going. Without women like you, this world would fall into pieces.

Strictly speaking you don’t exist; you’re an imaginary character in Mike Leigh’s movie that carries your name. But on some level I think you DO exist, under a different name.

Back in the 1950s, when the film takes place, there were surely a lot of women like you. You helped unwillingly pregnant women to get miscarriages. You had to operate secretly since it was against the law. You were the last resort, their only hope.

Things are different now, at least where I live. You don’t need to help out anymore, since women can get abortions in a safe and affordable way at hospitals. It’s still not an easy decision to take, but at least they don’t need to risk their lives anymore.

Sadly enough there are some countries where women have to do what you did in the film. They still have those laws against abortions as they had in UK back in the days, where only the richest could find ways to go round it. There are still Veras who help out. Not because they enjoy doing it; I know you never did. They do it because there are no other options and they’re unselfish and empathic, just like you were.

I’m writing to you because I wanted to let you know how much I loved Mike Leigh’s movie about you. I know abortion is a controversial issue in some countries and not everyone agrees with my view on it. But I think even a hardcore “pro-lifer” will sympathize with you seeing this film. Maybe they won’t agree with your actions, but they’ll understand why you did it and see that you’re not an evil person.

Imelda Staunton was so great playing you, wasn’t she? Apparently she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. Such a shame she didn’t win!

But the film isn’t just about her depicturing you. As so often with Mike Leigh’s movies, it isn’t a one-man show but a film about a cluster of persons, everyone providing a different story and different perspective on what’s going on. And what a bunch of great actors you have in your company! Some of the very best that Britain can offer.

Vera Drake, you may not think highly of yourself and you were ashamed of what you did when you were busted, but you shouldn’t be. You are a star and I want to thank you for shining and for sharing the warmth you have inside you, not just with your family, but with all the people watching. We’re all touched by you.

People may think that this film is gloomy and dark. It’s a Mike Leigh movie after all, and he has that kind of reputation. Besides there’s the topic. Illegal abortions in working class environment. A family in shock when the truth about their dear mother is revealed. It sounds like a tough watch, doesn’t it?

But there’s more to it than you see at first; it’s not all just about misery.

There is an element of politics, in the way that it reminds us of where we’re coming from, why we have the laws we have now and what the alternative would mean. But it’s also a film about the power of love, how the bonds in an extended family can help it to get by when put in an extreme situation.

And do you know what? The relationship between you and your hubby reminds me of the marriage in Another Year, if you’ve seen that. I think the two of you could serve as an inspiring example for any couple who aim to stay together for the rest of their lives.

Thank you for letting me into your life Vera and sharing your story! I hope things are better now. I have a strong feeling they are.

Love

Jessica

Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, UK, 2004) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

June 7, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Vera Drake

12 Responses

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  1. I do love this film. I think it’s one of Mike Leigh’s best and Imelda Staunton gave such a wonderful performance in that film. I don’t remember if she got nominated for an Oscar. I felt she should’ve been nominated for Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. She actually did the impossible with the role of Umbridge by making her even more hateful than what was suggested in the book. Umbridge is a character everyone loves to hate.

    Steven Flores

    June 7, 2012 at 1:31 am

    • She got a nomination, but Hilary Swank won it for Million Dollar Baby. The movie actually got two more nominations, for best writing and directing, but didn’t win any of those either, sadly.

      Jessica

      June 7, 2012 at 7:58 am

  2. A fine movie that is well deserved of such a fine text! It seems significant that quite a lot of people who have watched Vera talk about her like she IS a real person. Gold stars on the believeability to both Leigh and Staunton. And didn’t one just love that cosy family atmosphere? Nothing remarkable or anything, just ordinary and very, very endearing.

    Sofia

    June 7, 2012 at 6:19 am

    • Yes, that family was so wonderful. There were cracks in it of course; otherwise it wouldn’t have been believable. But you could really see how much it means to a family to have a loving person like Vera to hold it together.

      Vera really felt so alive. I never write my posts in form of letters to fictive characters, but in this case it came natural, it was the natural thing to do.

      Jessica

      June 7, 2012 at 8:01 am

  3. Brilliantly written Jessica. I like your approach to this. It’s been a long time since I seen this but youre spot on. Vera could so easily have been taken as a character of wrong-doing but invested with such love and attention by Staunton. A fabulous film.

    Mark Walker

    June 7, 2012 at 11:23 am

    • Thank you Mark. I never saw this when it came out, which is a shame. But I have a box of Leigh movies that I’m plowing my way back through. This is definitely one of my favorites so far.

      Jessica

      June 7, 2012 at 11:26 am

      • Have you ever seen “Abigail’s Party”? It’s a BBC dramatisation of one of Leigh’s own plays, featuring his wife Alison Steadman. It’s a great film. You might be able to get it on Amazon fairly cheap. If youre a fan of Leigh’s stuff, it’s a must.

        Mark Walker

        June 7, 2012 at 11:40 am

        • No, but I may very well have it. We have two boxes at home, one with a bunch of films, the other one with his TV productions. Such a treasure! I’ll look there.

          Jessica

          June 7, 2012 at 11:43 am

          • If you have it, it’s a real treat. More of a play than a film but brilliant nonetheless. A lot of Leigh’s TV work is really good.

            Mark Walker

            June 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

  4. Ah, Jessica, that was just lovely. Such a great way to style the review because that’s what you want to do with movie characters that you care for so much, right? Sit down and write to them, let them know what they meant to you, right? It’s funny you mention the Oscar lost to Hilary Swank because actually Swank’s character in “Million Dollar Baby” is one I feel as strongly about as you feel about Vera.

    Then again I haven’t seen Vera Drake. But I certainly will now.

    Nick

    June 8, 2012 at 4:23 am

    • Thanks for your kind words Nick. There is a blog that does this all the time, Dear Film, though they turn to the entire film with their letters. It’s really great, though I would find it difficult personally to keep to that format. But just for this movie the letter form felt natural.

      I never watched Million Dollar Baby but I understand that she must have been quite something there. Sometimes you wish they could just hand out two statues…

      And go ahead and watch this one. It’s very endearing and I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

      Jessica

      June 8, 2012 at 7:47 am

  5. Beautiful post, Jessica. Loved how you wrote it as a letter to Vera Drake. I haven’t seen her movie, but I think she’s the best thing in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    fernandorafael

    June 9, 2012 at 1:04 am


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