Our regular readers will remember that Mike Leigh's new film Vera Drake has been lionized by critics this year. The heroine of the movie provides free abortions to poor London women in the 1950s. That's when she's not cleaning the houses of rich women. Since Vera Drake hasn't made its way into the wilds of flyover country, I have to rely on reviews to determine whether this movie really is a counterexample to Emily's Thesis.* This review from the Houston Press suggests that if the move is a counterexample to Emily's Thesis, that's only true with lots of Kerryesque nuance:
Vera is not merely a domestic; when her day is through, she meets urgent women in squalid apartments and performs an act that she refers to as "helping young girls out." Using a rubber syringe, Vera injects a solution of soap, disinfectant and hot water into the girls' vaginas, with the aim of inducing miscarriage -- though Vera never says that word, just as she never says "abortion." She performs her work with a light efficiency that calms some girls and fails to comfort others. Either way, Vera scarcely notices. She inhabits a brand of benign denial that feels both right for her task and vaguely alarming. And indeed, doesn't she always leave before the difficulty begins? Apparently, a day or two after the procedure, the young woman feels "a pain down there" and begins to bleed. Vera never sees it.
Secrets must out, and the film takes its turn toward high drama exactly halfway through, when the police show up at the Drakes' apartment to question Vera. From then on, everything rolls downhill, which should not surprise but which does, perhaps because so few films are willing to allow the entire course of events to go to shit. The lengthy denouement may be too maudlin for some audiences, as the misery is plentiful; the fierce loyalty of Vera's husband might strike others as slightly absurd. But what comes through is a great deal of emotional truth, particularly in Vera's case. As events progress, we learn just how unable she has been to face the dark side of her work; then, as she is forced to confront it, we watch her break down under its weight.
*Emily's Thesis: Works of art that deal with abortion portray it as ugly and disturbing.