A letter to Vera
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.
Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, UK, 2004) My rating: 4,5/5