The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Vera Drake is a melodious plum pudding of a woman who is always humming or singing to herself. She is happy because she is useful, and likes to be useful. She works as a cleaning woman in a rich family's house, where she burnishes the bronze as if it were her own, and then returns home to a crowded flat to cook, clean and mend for her husband, son and daughter, and cheer them up when they seem out of sorts. She makes daily calls on invalids to plump up their pillows and make them a nice cup of tea, and once or twice a week she performs an abortion.
London in the 1950s. Wartime rationing is still in effect. A pair of nylons is bartered for eight packs of Players. Vera (Imelda Staunton) buys sugar on the black market from Lily (Ruth Sheen), who also slips her the name and address of women in need of "help." Lily is as hard and cynical as Vera is kind and trusting. Vera would never think of accepting money for "helping out" young girls when "they got no one to turn to," but Lily charges 2 pounds and 2 shillings, which she doesn't tell Vera about.
In a film of pitch-perfect, seemingly effortless performances, Imelda Staunton is the key player, and her success at creating Vera Drake allows the story to fall into place and belong there. We must believe she's naive to be taken advantage of by Lily, but we do believe it. We must believe she has a simple, pragmatic morality to justify abortions, which were a crime in England until 1967, but we do believe it.
Some of the women who come to her have piteous stories; they were raped, they are still almost children, they will kill themselves if their parents find out, or in one case there are seven mouths to feed and the mother lacks the will to carry on. But Vera is not a social worker who provides counseling; she is simply being helpful by doing something she believes she can do safely. Her age-old method involves lye soap, disinfectant and, of course, lots of hot water, and another abortionist describes her method as "safe as houses."