In 1950 London, lower middle-class (but upper middle- aged) Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) devotes herself to family and "helping" others. With empathic cheeriness, she visits shut-ins, provides tea for the bedridden, feeds lonely men, and "brings on their bleeding" for girls in trouble. She also tends her cantankerous, ailing mother, who has never revealed the identity of Vera’s father.

The men in Vera’s life are bruised and confused by end of the war. Exuding affection, she cooks, irons, sews, and listens to their litanies of loss and derring-do. Her son, Sid, is an extroverted clothing salesman and her dowdy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly), is a pathologically shy factory-worker; neither seems adequate for the task of living alone. But Vera and her husband, Stan (Phil Davis), are happy in each other, their offspring, and their modest existence.

Only the friend, Nellie, knows of the help for young girls. She extracts a secret two-guinea fee for advising the girl, but Vera receives not a penny. Over the years, the two women have solved problems for mothers with too many children, mothers with no man, and mothers who were raped. They also safely abort insouciant party girls who are blas?about men, sex, and consequences.

But a young girl falls seriously ill following an abortion and is sent to hospital. Under pressure from police, the girl’s mother divulges Vera’s name. The police barge in to arrest her just as the Drake family celebrates Ethel’s engagement to one of the lonely men, Reg (Eddie Marsan).

The criminal charges come as a complete surprise to the family. Sid seethes with anger and disbelief, but Stan’s implicit faith in his wife brings him and the others to support her through the long trial. The judge hands her a stiff thirty-month sentence intended "as a deterrent." But in prison, Vera meets two other abortionists who tell her that she is lucky: both are serving much longer, second sentences, because their "girls" had died.


A provocative evocation of the plight of poor or abused women and their "helpers" prior to the liberalization of abortion laws. In a parallel tale, Vera’s sad fortunes are set against the shady and infinitely more costly practices of a network of private specialists who serve the wealthy. Because they are better hidden and more tolerated in a hypocritical justice system, these upper-class medical professors grow rich on dishonesty, while Vera and women like her ’help’ without any remuneration, only to face imprisonment.

The grandmotherly gentleness in all Vera’s acts, from pouring tea to injecting carbolic soap, contrasts sharply with the alleged savagery of her crimes. Dismay at Nellie’s duplicity, fear of police, and shame in front of her family render her speechless with humiliation and tears. In the later scenes, the film moves slowly with prolonged close-ups of Vera’s tremulous blubbering.

Nevertheless, Staunton’s performance is a ’tour de force’ of emotion and character. Smaller parts are also played with sensitivity and dramatic depth: the burly policeman’s bewildered concern tempers his rigid attention to duty; Stan’s baffled allegiance fosters his comprehension; and the tender gawkiness of Ethel and her Reg makes a powerful statement about hope in misery.


Based on an unwritten "screenplay" by Leigh. Golden Lion Awards for best film and best actress (Staunton). British Independent Film Awards, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Nominated for Best Screenplay [by Leigh]); 3 Oscar Nominations (Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay).

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Alliance Atlantis