> Volume 6 > Number 28


Mike Leigh

Imelda Staunton
Philip Davis
Peter Wight
Adrian Scarborough
Heather Craney
Daniel Mays
Alex Kelly
Sally Hawkins

Release: TBA

Vera Drake


With the Washington Post pronouncing gay marriage “the new abortion,” the commentary in Mike Leigh’s latest effort may seem moot. His story of an abortion specialist in 1950s England never feels timely regardless of the setting. With abortion now legal in that country as well as in the states, the film’s reminder of what archaic laws we once had feels awfully like cinematic muckraking, riling up the activists to action even if they’ve succeeded in their interests to this point.

Furthermore, the film isn’t particularly engaging in the first place. Apart from some fine performances, including a well maintained reversal from Imelda Staunton as the title character, most of what occurs in Vera Drake feels contrived. Though based on a true story, its succession of exposition and emotional uplift come as affronts to the normally obtuse Leigh. The director of such films as Naked and Secrets & Lies doesn’t seem terribly interested in the emotional depths of his characters, which is counter to the niche he’s established for himself in British cinema. With three of his finest performers jumping ship for the film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban offers more complex characterizations.

I’ve never seen a Mike Leigh film in which he seems to lose interest in plots before they reach their apex. But here story strands are suddenly dropped and never touched again. At the beginning, he seems determined to make a statement about the differences between a rich woman’s abortion and a poor woman’s abortion, but once he’s setup the scenario, he moves back to the story of Vera and her wonderful bedside manner. The possibility for a meaningful exploration of abortion history is terminated prematurely -- it’s the new partial birth abortion

©2004, David Perry,, 9 July 2004