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'Vera Drake' joins abortion debate

Tidings Reviewer

Over the past 50 years there has been no more emotionally — charged or divisive issue than abortion, dominating our national discourse, — a lodestone of controversy involving profoundly complex judgments such — as: What is the value of each human being, and when is life life and when — is it not? So difficult is this debate, so very personal and so very abstract, — that the courts concluded that the only posture deemed viable was to say, — simply, that it should be up to each woman to choose, to come to her own — decision, a decision that should not be left in the hands of either the — state or the church.

"Vera Drake" inserts itself into the dialogue over abortion — while demonstrating the power of film to create both a visual and narrative — drama that is provocative in its simplicity. But this movie isn't just — about abortion, it's about a woman who is completely without guile, who — acts from motives purely and without reflection. It proves to be, for — Vera and her family, a lethal combination.

At the center of this extraordinary movie is Vera Drake — (Imelda Staunton), a kindhearted wife and mother, living in the postwar — London of 1950. Though the look of the film is noir, a mix of browns and — shades of gray, Vera is all but radiant. She cleans the homes of the more — affluent, cares for an ailing mother, and is the center of gravity for — her family. She is loving to a fault. And when all else fails, Vera puts — on the kettle and brews up a cup of tea.

The only caveat in her life-affirming nature is that she — also puts on the kettle and prepares a basin of warm water mixed with — lye soap, and for those girls who find themselves in trouble offers them — a way out. As quietly as tucking a warm blanket around her ill mother, — or fixing up a nice meal for her son and daughter, she assists a young — woman in aborting an early fetus. And she does this without hesitation — or even trepidation, believing that what she is about will set things — right once again, though the women she helps are often in personal agony, — some deeply ambivalent about what it is they are about to do. And not — just because they fear that there is physical risk.

London during the early 1950s, when it came to abortion, — was many shades of gray. Women of means could avail themselves of the — medical profession to have an abortion, for a price. One that was all — too often out of reach for working-class women. Like most of Europe, England — was exhausted by a devastating war. Most people were struggling to recover, — emotionally and financially. At the time, the gap between those who could — avail themselves of an abortion and those who couldn't had not been closed. — And so, for a fraction of the cost, women such as Vera performed what — were considered by the state to be illegal abortions (actually, Vera never — asked for remuneration). Illegal for good reasons, since they were performed — by untrained people in circumstances that were less than antiseptic.

To watch "Vera Drake," is to see a consummate actress — at work. Imelda Staunton is brilliant and it is clear why she was nominated — for an Academy Award for best lead actress. She not only transforms herself — for the role, but transforms herself throughout the course of the film. — Her spirit at the outset is luminescent. She glows. And then gradually, — as she faces the consequences of her acts, her light begins to slowly — fade, her face a portrait of agony. Staunton's performance, supported — by a marvelous cast, is remarkable for its range and depth.

"Vera Drake" is exceptional in so many ways -- timeless — and quietly profound. To the filmmakers credit, the narrative never becomes — preachy, and Vera is never portrayed as righteous. She is as deeply flawed — as was the then inequitable policy regarding abortions. This is a film — of great honesty and complexity and one not to be missed.

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Vera Drake —

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R for depiction of strong thematic material, 125 min.