Monday, October 31, 2011

Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake

Imelda Staunton received her only Best Actress nomination to date for playing the title role of Vera Drake, a charming, incredibly helpful woman who "helps young girls out". Imelda Staunton was pretty much the critics' darling during the awards season. It was a big upset when she lost the Golden Globe to Hilary Swank and what once seemed to be a two-way race between Imelda and Annette Bening, turned out to be the time for Hilary Swank to repeat. I guess the other two nods for Vera Drake show that the Academy did fall for this film though I think Imelda wasn't famous enough to get ahead of Annette.

Vera Drake is an excellent piece of work by Mike Leigh though it's not perfect and I felt that sometimes it was a tiny bit obvious and didn't trust its audience enough. Other than that, it's a wonderfully written and directed film (very deserving of both nomination) that really made me cringe once or twice. Although it's not as devastating as Secrets and Lies, it's actually quite close to it. I was very impressed by the performances in this film and it was wonderful to see Mike Leigh's usual actors in very different parts.

Vera Drake is an incredibly lovely woman. You can only see her helping other people and from what we see from her, she's extremely unselfish, very loving, generous and giving. She bursts with energy and kindness, she just enlightens the mood of those close to her. I think Imelda Staunton, with her rosy cheeks and little chubby face, was the perfect choice to play this part. Vera is an incredibly simple woman and if they had given her role to a glamourous superstar, the result wouldn't have been half as effective and harrowing.

You may or may not rememember how much of a hyper I was about this performance. The first time I saw her, I was just amazed and totally chilled by this very emotional work and couldn't love her more. I was utterly surprised to find out that some of that huge amount of appreciation has disappeared. I often wonder why thos things happen. I see the very same work, the same way (if that's possible) so what could be different now? Easy: me. One of the great things about these reviews is that it constantly makes me reevalute my opinions and thoughts about a certain performance. If you would have told me two and a half years ago that I would incredibly dislike Joanne Woodward and be madly in love with Kate Winslet, I wouldn't have believed it. So it was timely to revisit this old favorite of mine.

I'm not saying anything bad about Imelda's work as Vera Drake as I still find it fantastic and amazing. The way she took this person and made totally her own is just unbelievable. Every time I want to write Imelda, I always start typing Vera. That tells a lot about how well Imelda identified with this character. In the beginning, we see her constantly smiling and humming cheerful songs and this spirit keeps up even when Vera is performing one of the abortions. Vera is incredibly calm and Imelda is so subtle in her acting.

Vera is an incredibly interesting character because of all the depths and layers inside her. Imelda was able to show so much of them and as a result, we got a brutally realistic human being. Vera herself doesn't think of her acts as abortions, she just says that she helps young girls out so that they can "get back their bleeding". For her there's no moral dilemma that holds her back as she's 100% certain that she's doing the right thing and helps these desperate women. There's something so soothing and yet very sinister about her character. You can see both an angel of mercy and a devil on earth. But which one is stronger in Vera? Imelda (and the movie) was clever enough to let the viewers decide for themselves.

The harmony of Vera's life is over when she's arrested for endangering the life of one of the girls. The change in the performance (and the movie) is so radical that it has an incredible dramatic effect. Suddenly Vera becomes a frightened anima, her wide smile disappears. Imelda is wonderful in the scene where Vera realises that the police came for her. She's acting only with her face and it was just unbelievable. She has numerous breakdowns and Imelda's cheerful presence turns out to be something really brutal and harrowing. She's quite simply amazing at the police station and courtroom scenes. She doesn't miss any of the opportunities and she constantly surprised me with her unusual choices. Imelda never went over-the-top with Vera and I always felt that it was the right way to play the reactions of Vera.

So after all, I can't say anything negative about Imelda Staunton as Vera Drake. Although I don't love her as much as I used to, I still find her simply fantastic. She completely became this character and wonderfully played with the emotions. The way Imelda reveals all the layers of Vera and creates dramatic tension on the screen is just unbelievably great. Unforgettable, remarkable work.

What do you think?


Louis Morgan said...

Seems like Winslet has it in the bag now. Perhaps Moreno has a chance but probably not.

Malcolm said...

i'm gonna update my predictions now..... :)

1. Winslet
2. Sandino Moreno
3. Staunton
4. Bening
5. Swank

Dazzling Aura said...

What exactly i like about Staunton's Vera Drake is that she inhabit the character. Yes, you are right "not over-the-top" and that's what I raving about especially in dramatic films. Sometimes less is more and it's effective.
The scene where the police told her that the girl she tried to help out was in near death; the horror in her eyes and the expression was so painful. Rarely i could see an actor can do that is this generation of films.
Anyway, i love your review very straight forward.

dinasztie said...

Dazzling Aura: Thanks. I agree with you but I like her to a lesser extent. :)

dinasztie said...

Louis: Well, I might pick Catalina or I might as well sell my soul to the devil :)