Monday, August 25, 2008

Film Club and Vera

With Dong and Shazzerooneypoos invading John and Julie Elworthy's garden and with Frankenkeith off performing feats of derring-do (or something), last night's film club consisted of Mrs The Millbrooker and yours truly.

We dispensed with the usual huge spread of nibbly things and small lake of wine, contenting ourselves with a a small pond of wine instead and lots of chocolate.

As you'll have gathered from the headline and from the photo, last night's film was Mike Leigh's 2004 offering "Vera Drake".

The film got huge amounts of hype and publicity on its release and received award after award including BAFTAs for Mike Leigh and for Imelda Staunton in the title role.

It's set amongst the working classes of London in the immediate aftermath of the war. The establishing scenes are hugely evocative as we see Vera coming and going about her daily business of cleaning for the wealthy and dropping in on neighbours to make a cuppa and have a friendly word. The backroom people who worked on the locations and sets made an excellent job of creating an entirely plausible world; muted colours and plenty of carefully crafted evidence of there being very little money to go around.

Most readers will know the film concerns the backstreet abortions that were so common in the days before the then plain old Mr David (now Lord) Steel introduced the 1966 Abortion Act and guided it into the statute books. Mike Leigh is careful never to enter into the argument in favour or against the act of abortion itself; the viewer is left to decide for themselves. What a pleasure it is to be treated like an vaguely intelligent adult by a film director.

Leigh's famous modus operandi is to introduce improvisation into the scenes that he films; here this technique is taken to quite extreme lengths. The central scenes were often entirely improvised with no actor knowing what was going to be introduced next; one session apparently lasted seven hours!

Rehearsals consisted of acting out the characters' early lives rather than working out movements and scripts; by knowing everything about the character, the actor can react and proact exactly as the character would - because to all intents and purposes they are no longer acting: they have become the character.

The cast is, without exception, excellent. It almost goes without saying that Imelda Staunton carries the film and gives the performance of a master. She is riveting to watch as Vera moves through every emotion in the book.

Staunton is supported by the outstanding Phil Davies who plays Stan, Vera's husband. Daniel Mays, Alex Kelly and Eddie Marsan complete Vera's immediate family and also give superb, uncomfortable and edgy performances.

A couple of hours watching Vera Drake will not be an uplifting experience; it's emotionally draining in places and your sympathies will be pulled hither and thither throughout the film.

In narrative terms the film is simplicity itself, in human terms it tells a story as big as anything you'll see on celluloid. This one is a must see. If you haven't already seen it - get yourself a copy, munch some chocolate, slurp some wine and enjoy some of the best that the film makers' art has to offer.

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