Imelda Staunton, Phil Davis, Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly
So perfectly does Vera Drake recreate the punishing penury of daily life for working-class residents of postwar London in 1950 that, even sitting in a toasty-warm theater, you'll shiver from the chill pervading their under-heated, cramped apartments. It is indicative of the solicitude with which writer-director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies) establishes the specifics of the world inhabited by his title character, an abortionist, in this brilliant, heartbreaking film.
Leigh has crafted, with the care and delicacy of a master pastry chef, a heroine and story that are simultaneously simple and complex. Kindly Vera Drake (Staunton) cleans rich people's houses for a living and fusses over her hubby and two adult children in her own modest flat. What her family doesn't know is that she regularly performs at-home abortions free of charge for women too poor to pay a doctor to do the then illegal deed. "I'm here to help you," Vera reassures a fretful patient before reaching for her supplies: a rubber hose and a basin of soapy water. When one of Vera's procedures goes awry and she's arrested, she crumples emotionally, devastated by the harshness of society's judgment of her ministrations.
Warm and bustling, Staunton is flat-out phenomenal, making the ordinary extraordinary. She turns Vera into the aproned equal of Willy Loman. Attention must be paid. (R)