Abortion on Screen: Vera Drake (2004): Mike Leigh’s Tale of Abortionist, Starring Imelda Staunton in Oscar-Nominated Performance

Vera Drake (2004)

In Mike Leigh’s melodrama, the title character, very well played by Imelda Staunton (she was Oscar nominated), is a middle-aged housewife in 1950 working-class London.

Ultra-busy, she tirelessly tends to her family, dashes between cleaning jobs and visits sick friends and relatives in whatever spare time she has left.

What neither her family nor her friends know is that this salt-of-the-earth woman provides back-street abortions, an unpaid service she describes as “helping young girls out when they can’t manage.”

With compassion but no melodrama, Leigh observes the vast difference in options for pregnant women on opposite sides of the class divide at a time when abortion was illegal in Britain, quietly threading a sense of crushing dread as the film builds to Vera’s inevitable exposure and arrest.