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Nominated for three Oscars, including: Best Original Screenplay (Mike Leigh), Best Director (Mike Leigh) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Imelda Staunton), Vera Drake is what you might call a true Oscar tour-de-force. The subject matter is spot on, the acting is powerfully driven by a great cast, the writing is predictably satin and the themes run wild with dramatic under layers. This is powerful stuff…

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Movie
Just like Billy Elliot and About a Boy, Mike Leigh has delivered a powerful, refreshing and ultimately brilliant British film that effortlessly toys with the human condition, amongst other things. Like many great filmmakers, Leigh knows how to weave dramatic tension and powerful imagery to create almost frightening, yet somehow warming emotional resonance. Everything is alive and the screen populated by ‘real’ characters who you find yourself instantly caring for. It is this level of quality – both from Leigh’s writing and overall direction – that draws you in and ceases to let go.

But, while Leigh can be praised and admired for his talents, the real star of this powerful drama is Imelda Staunton. Her persona and charismatic energy allows her to inject a fresh and compelling presence and she plays the titular character with ambiance and diligence; her Oscar nomination was almost certainly just.

But what is Vera Drake? Well, it is essentially a period drama, at least in its most basic form. But in my way of thinking Vera Drake was like a gushing dam of emotions. It taps into the nature of humanity and explores it though some severe circumstances and consequences. Though the film’s are totally different, I found some of the execution of Vera Drake similar to that of American Beauty. I am specifically looking at the way Sam Mendes gazed into the genre and found new ways to draw us in. Leigh’s approach is akin to this though possibly a little more subdued and restrained.

The story is wonderful, and flows from scene to scene as if on a steadily moving conveyor belt. That shouldn’t suggest Vera Drake becomes monotonous, but merely that it has a perfectly apt pace that never lets up or slows to a crunch. Everything is kept tight and seamless throughout which ensures a pleasant viewing experience.

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As mentioned above, Imelda Staunton plays the titular character, and does so with a reckoning credit. Vera Drake is a pretty selfless woman, a kind and caring soul; a wife, mother and criminal – as the tagline states. Though a respected woman in every way, Vera does have a dark secret – she is secretly helping women induce abortions, which of course illegal circa 1950’s England. While she is accused of breaking the law, Vera Drake insists that she is merely helping women in desperate need. It’s powerful stuff, that’s for sure.

With the film being quite gritty and set amid the ‘50’s, Mike Leigh really unleashes some beautifully grimy imagery that is fully able to capture the essence of the era it portrays. Why the film wasn’t nominated for a cinematography and production design Oscar remains a baffling mystery to me. I thought it was easily as worthy as any of the others nominees in those categories. But still, this is one damn fine looking movie, further aided by the notoriously grainy DVD transfer. But we’ll talk about that later.

As much as I liked this film, not everything is terribly precise in Vera Drake. Some of the more intimate scenes often create too much on-screen saccharine for my liking, but I suppose given how great this film is, such things can be easily overlooked and dismissed. But I must mention that this is no Saturday-night flick either. If you are looking for a good film to chill out to, then there are more entertaining and gripping films out there and Vera Drake is definitely not one of them. You have to be emotionally prepared for a film like this, and you certainly need to be in the right mood otherwise it just might put a dampener on you evening. This is solid and powerful drama, nothing more, nothing less. Take it at face value and you won’t be disappointed.

You know, there are some review discs I get from time to time that bore me to tears, and there are some that command great respect and admiration; Vera Drake is of the latter regard, and one such film that does demand great adoration. As a matter of fact I enjoyed this film so much I think I’ll go and re-watch it right now. No, seriously.

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Video
Shot in 1.85:1, Vera Drake has a mostly solid DVD transfer. Everything about the image is fantastic, save for a good deal of grain throughout most of the film. If any of you have read some of my earlier reviews, you’ll recall me appreciating films such as this that are ‘intentionally’ grainy, which of course coincides with the gritty nature of the film. Save for that however, this is a pretty flawless transfer and one that feels ‘just right’ for the dramatic tones and grubby settings of the film.

Audio
Dolby Digital 5.1 is all this disc comes with but due to the dialogue heavy script, you won’t really find any LFE or surround sound to be amazed by. The occasional scene here and there will give some of the rear speakers a bit of a workout, but nothing too arduous. For a film such as this however, everything sounds great if not utterly fantastic. And as the dialogue is the main star of the audio range; you can expect wonderfully lavish and crisp dialogue that feels right at home.

Extras
There are only two measly features on offer here; a cast and crew documentary and a trailer. The trailer feature is self explanatory – it’s just the movie’s theatrical trailer, but what of the documentary? Well, it lasts only for a few minutes and merely scrapes the surface on this richly complex drama. What this disc would have benefited from most is an audio commentary from writer/director Mike Leigh. This is just one of those films that scream out for a commentary. Could a special edition be in the works I wonder?

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Overall
In a nutshell, Vera Drake is a classic; a motion picture drama that will endure the passage of time; a real gem of a movie in fact. I’d even go as far as to say that Vera Drake is a diamond amid a steaming pile of manure. For a film that only grossed about ten-million-dollars worldwide, Vera Drake will go on to last a lifetime though word of mouth more so than anything. You have to see it, even if you feel the material is not worth your time. I doubt you’d regret it.

As for the DVD, I am afraid this disc is quite disappointing, no thanks to its severe lack of extra features; particularly a commentary from Mike Leigh which would have been a great feature. Still, the image transfer and audio aspects are great. Does it come recommended? Absolutely yes!


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