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Vera Drake

August 30, 2015

VD2This is a film about abortion and forgiveness. It’s set in 1950’s London and is an atmospheric film about Vera Drake and her family, before and after her secret work as a back-street abortionist is discovered.

Some see Vera as one of the kindest souls one will ever see in pictures in a long, long time. She is a woman who will go out of her way to be of use to anyone that needs her. Peter Bradshaw in an article in the Guardian film magazine said: ‘She does it out of the Christian goodness of her heart.’

Contrast the character of Joyce, Frank’s wife, who claims that she wants to become a mother. She is depicted as the most selfish character in the film. Barely middle-class and insecure, she is preoccupied with material wealth and improving her social status. Her response to Vera’s arrest is to distance herself from this shame and embarrassment, though her long-awaited pregnancy plays a role in her reaction. Vera’s own household, by contrast, is filled with warmth, laughter, and uncomplicated happiness. Vera and Stanley Drake have a strong marriage, and after Vera’s secret emerges, although the family has mixed feelings about what she has done, they remain loyal to her.

There’s the contrast between morality and legality. Morally, Vera believes that she is doing the right thing by “helping out” women who do not wish to give birth. She feels driven to perform these procedures out of what she feels is charity, and her personal understanding of the consequences of unwanted pregnancies in her socio-economic environment. Vera’s intentions, however, are irrelevant in a court of law. It is noteworthy that Vera’s son Sid strongly represents the anti-abortion position and that the representatives of law and authority—doctors and nurses, the police, and the judge—are not presented as villains but rather as decent people who are simply doing their jobs properly in the context of 1950’s legal and social mores. Another theme is the male ignorance of the choices women must make when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. The anxiety, stress and pain experienced by a woman going through the whole ordeal (from discovering they are pregnant to the heart-wrenching decision to have an abortion) can never fully be understood by a male. Hence Sid’s reaction when he finds out what his mother has done-he does not understand the ramifications of not having the abortion. In contrast, the female police clerk in charge of Vera during her interrogation and arrest displays perhaps as much sympathy as her job would allow.

Have both sides of the abortion debates demonized one another? Does this demonization affect our ability to engage in productive, civil debate?

Are there any cases where decent, moral people can engage in immoral activities?

VD2Quotations:

Sid: ‘It’s wrong though ain’t it?
Vera: ‘I don’t think so.’
Sid: ‘Of course it is, it’s little babies . . . It’s dirty’

Reg: It ain’t fair. Me mum brought up six of us in two rooms. If you can’t feed ’em, you can’t love ’em, now can you?

Vera: I know why you’re here.
Det. Inspector Webster: I beg your pardon?
Vera: I know why you’re here.
[pause]
Det. Inspector Webster: Why are we here?
Vera: Because of what I do.
Det. Inspector Webster: Because of what you do?
Vera: Yes.
Det. Inspector Webster:: What is it that you do, Mrs Drake?
[long pause]
Vera: I help young girls out.

Stan: Whatever she done, she done it out of the goodness of her heart!

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