Vera Drake

Rated 4.0 In 1950 London, a cheerful housewife (Imelda Staunton) works as a cleaning lady for a number of homeowners, visits invalids and shut-ins—and performs illegal, home-remedy abortions for women and girls who can’t afford the legal abortions that are available to the well-to-do. Writer-director Mike Leigh gives another one of his closely observed, minutely detailed re-creations of lower-middle-class life. He stacks the deck a bit in favor of his heroine; she’s just a tad too much of a saint to ring entirely true, but so convincing is Leigh’s sooty urban atmosphere, and so finely drawn is Staunton’s brilliant performance, that such quibbles occur only in retrospect. Stacked deck or no, Leigh eschews cheap melodrama, keeping his movie low-key and natural—which makes it all the more heartbreaking.