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Film / Vera Drake

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Vera Drake is a 2004 British drama film written and directed by Mike Leigh, starring Imelda Staunton and Richard Graham. It tells the story of a working-class woman in England who performs secret abortions in the 1950s, when abortion was still illegal.

This film contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Vera's partner Lily, through whom she gets most of her patients. Vera eventually learns that Lily is charging the women for the abortions and neither telling Vera nor offering her any of the money (not that Vera would accept it anyway, but still).
  • Artistic License – Medicine: The method of abortion which Vera uses was actually invariably lethal-there's no way she'd have used this for twenty years before having a fatality. It's also extremely painful-they would not be getting up after that like nothing happened. Jennifer Worth of Call the Midwife fame harshly criticized the portrayal.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: The entire premise. Vera works as this in order to provide what she sees as necessary abortions.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Vera goes to prison, but at only two and a half years, it's clear that she's getting off easy.
  • Black-and-White Morality: When the truth comes out about Vera, Stanley quietly accuses Sid of seeing the matter this way.
  • Description Cut: A variation. One scene ends with one of Vera's patients saying that "men don't understand anything." Cut to Susan getting a legal abortion by lying to her psychiatrist, after she was coached on what to say by her male physician.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: The film is sympathetic toward Vera but also presents multiple perspectives on the issue, both with realistic patients (a careless floozy, an exhausted housewife who couldn't afford to raise another child, a victim of date rape) and with her family when they find out the truth (her husband vows to stay by her side for better or worse, her son believes it's "killing innocent babies," and her daughter's fiancé thinks it's an act of mercy compared to bringing a child who can't be properly cared for into the world.)
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: No heroes or villains here, just people on different sides of a very complex issue.
  • I Have This Friend: Susan tries to use this trope when she wants to confide in an older friend about getting pregnant. Her older friend sees right through Susan's ruse.
  • Intrafamilial Class Conflict: Vera's sister-in-law, Joyce, is much more aspirational than the rest of her husband's very modest working-class family, which creates a strained undercurrent in their relationship.
  • Insanity Defense: Susan's doctor coaches her to lie to her psychiatrist and say she has a family history of mental illness and will kill herself if she must take the pregnancy to term. Justified since this is the only way she can obtain an abortion legally, and even then, the price is steep.
  • Mercy Kill / Shoot the Dog: How Reg views the abortions, in stark contrast to Sid.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Lily, Vera's partner, has a dim view of their black patient (whom she calls a "darkie") and immigrants in general.
  • Rape as Drama: How Susan ends up getting pregnant.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The subplot involving Susan, the girl from a rich family who becomes pregnant through date-rape and gets a borderline-legal abortion, while poor women have to go to Vera.
  • The Stoic: Sid, strongly hinted as the result of being a Shell-Shocked Veteran.
  • War Is Hell: We never see it ourselves, but just from the little we hear of war from Stanley, Reg, and Sid, it's obvious that it's taken its toll, particularly on Sid.