Imelda Staunton delivers "a career-best performance" in Mike Leigh's period drama Vera Drake. It was nominated for a clutch of Oscars, but Staunton and Leigh both went away empty-handed on the night. Still, 2005 was a good year for the diminutive director who beat Martin Scorsese (flying high with The Aviator) to win the BAFTA for Best Directing. Inevitably though, audiences shied away from the film's difficult subject matter concerning abortion in 50s Britain.
For a film that touches upon such a far-reaching issue, Vera Drake offers a meagre package of extras on DVD. Aside from the trailer, a Cast And Crew documentary is all that's offered - and at just over ten minutes long, it's really only a featurette. It's a pity more time isn't allocated to this discussion, because a lot of interesting points are raised, and not just on the topic of abortion. As Leigh explains, he did not want to make a film that was "polemical, or didactic". Instead the fascination lies with his very unusual working methods.
Staunton talks about an intensive regime of rehearsals where Leigh draws upon the actors' improvisations to help develop the script. To illustrate, she refers to the party scene when the police arrive with a warrant for Vera's arrest. This was the result of seven hours ad-libbing after which came a surprise knock at the door. Staunton had no idea what was coming when she opened up, but was so deep into character that she recalls, "I got a pain in my chest - I thought I was having a heart attack."
Likewise cinematographer Dick Pope explains how he manages to keep up with Leigh's freewheeling style. But just as it starts to get interesting, the "documentary" ends. In an ideal world we'd be able to glimpse video footage of these epic rehearsal sessions, but Leigh isn't willing to give anything away. He doesn't offer an audio commentary and even his contribution to the "documentary" can be summed up in a few soundbites.
If you didn't catch Vera Drake at the cinema, it's well worth a look on DVD, but those expecting profound insights into the filmmaking process, or any reflection on the subject of abortion will be sorely disappointed.