Released: Oct. 10
Distributor: Fine Line
Oscar alumnus: Jim Clark (editing, “The Killing Fields”)
In “Topsy-Turvy,” Mike Leigh’s last film to make a trip to the Oscars, William Gilbert observes, “There’s something inherently disappointing about success.”
If so, then Leigh could be in for more disappointing days ahead. Period drama “Topsy-Turvy” came away with two Academy wins in 2000 (costume design and make-up) and “Secrets & Lies” became a surprise best picture nominee in 1997. “Vera Drake” is shaping up similarly.
A quietly devastating drama set in post-war London, “Vera Drake” tracks the tragic downfall of the title character, a matronly Good Samaritan who offers abortions to those who can’t afford a proper operation. The movie gained momentum at this year’s Venice Film Festival, winning top prizes for film and actress. Imelda Staunton, known mostly for her U.K. stage work, delivers a stunning performance as the unwitting abortionist, a woman so gentle and kindly she can’t grasp the fact that she’s a criminal.
While the 48-year-old Staunton is new to Oscar, Leigh is no stranger, having received noms for best picture, original screenplay and direction for “Secrets and Lies” and a screenwriting nom for “Topsy-Turvy.”
“Vera Drake’s” controversial stance on abortion may ruffle a few feathers — trailers and TV spots, not surprisingly, omit the “A” word. Critics, as always with Leigh, will be the backbone of the campaign. Many have already saluted “Vera” as the comeback film for the director of such early critical faves as “Life Is Sweet” and “High Hopes.”
The film’s meticulous attention to period detail — from the flowered wallpaper on the walls to the green-and-brownish hues of the cramped flats — is also a bravura technical achievement that could lead to accolades for veteran “Topsy-Turvy” Oscar nominees Eve Stewart (production design) and John Bush (set decoration). Oscar-winning editor Jim Clark also lends an assured touch to “Vera Drake,” producing a clipped and concise drama that never lets up the tension.
And though intimate, emotionally harrowing movies have rarely won best picture statuettes, the paucity of major-studio heavyweights suggests that little pics like “Vera” could more than hold their own.