DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Vera Drake, Swing Vote, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Unborn in the USA

Title:  Vera Drake

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: UK, English

Running time: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company:  Fine Line Features, UK Film Councuk

Director; Writer: Mike Leigh


Cast: Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, Daniel Mays, Sally Hawkins 


Relevance to site:  Abortion


I can remember growing up in the 50s that there was a Friday night black-and-white TV series called “The DA’s Man,” and one of the episodes was called “The Abortionist.” In the days before Roe v. Wade, back alley and coathanger abortions did happen, as abortion was very much underground.

Now Vera is an aging housewife, about 60, who works as a domestic in several London homes, and lives modestly with her husband and family, and takes care of an aging mother.  She does abortions with a “douche” when arranged by a contact, and then very nicely tells her clients what to expect. In the meantime, rich people go through the legal formalities, including seeing a psychiatrist, to get “hardship” abortions. When one of her clients gets infected and almost dies, the police finally come after her, after twenty years of “doing it.”  Her husband doesn’t even know.

The scene where the police come, calmly, but encroach on an afternoon family event, is quite chilling. The movie takes us then through her arraignment, bail, guilty plea, and sentencing for 30 months. She “does it” to “help girls out,” and never charges.  She does it to feel good about herself.  The film ends with her in prison, a white shot—and then one family scene. The film is a bit claustrophobic and, with its limited indoor sets, mostly in a London flat with blue-gray colors, seems like a play.

The film does not question the sexual mores of the era, which regarded abortion not so much as destroying human life as a fatal break between sexual activity and procreation, an idea considered necessary for the (somewhat repressive) social cohesion of the times.

Swing Vote (1999); ABC Circle Films (made for TV, first broadcast Monday, April 19, 1999); Starring: Andy Garcia; 96 minutes; PG-13; 9.0/10                    

Let me start with this: If the Communications Decency Act of 1996 had become law (the Supreme Court struck it down in June 1997), I probably could not review this movie at my web-site, as the CDA tried to stifle on-line discussions of abortion!

The film starts with a rather contrived premise. Roe v. Wade (1973) has been reversed, and a woman is convicted of 1st degree murder by the state of Alabama for having an elective abortion. Now, the Supreme Court is called upon to overturn the conviction and possibly recant its reversal. Do two wrongs make a right?

Andy Garcia plays a new, young (about 40 maybe) Supreme Court justice, rather idealistic in trying to balance legal fundamentalism with his own social liberalism. The film progresses to show all the little alliances witnin the Court's deliberations in order to obtain a "politically acceptable" majority opinion.

Garcia gets to read the majority Opinion in the final scene. It did look like the inside of the Supreme Court (I've been there, from a three-minute line for the hearings on the CDA in 1997). He covers a lot of ground important to me in his Opinion, which is why I review the movie on this site. For example, he sees both Life and a woman's Privacy as "fundamental rights" subsumed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (emanating from other rights). They must be balanced, since there is no escape from the logical trap of the situation. Garcia draws the line at twenty weeks (my own DADT book suggests drawing it at 13). Garcia goes on to reason that a woman should never be considered criminal for having an abortion (for example, 1998 Minnesota Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Frank Germann is 100% "pro-life" but holds the same position). But he then goes further and insists that states which want to ban abortions after twenty weeks accept some supervision by the Court in improving their social programs for unwanted kids. Only about 5% of all children given up by unwed mothers for adoption actually do get adopted (I hope readers of this page can comment on the accuracy of this - email Is this "Court made law," a case where the courts take up something politicians are afraid of? Other parameters of the debate were interesting. When does instantiation of a human life, with its future potential self-awareness (a mystery, to be sure) take place? The pro-life positions in the movie seemed to be more principled than they often are in real life, where social control seems to be the underlying motive.

In early 2004, this film drew renewed attention because of legislation in Congress to treat the unborn child as a separate victim in a crime, motived by the Scott Peterson trial in California.

Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days ("4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile",  IFC, dir. wr. Christian Mungui, 111 min, sug. R, Romania) takes us through an illegal abortion in the last days of Communist Romania just before the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu. Blogger link is here.  

Unborn in the USA: Inside the War on Abortion (2007, First Run, dir. Stephen Fell and Will Thomson, 107 min) examines the organized effort to discourage women from having abortions, starting with the group "Justice for All" and the depiction of pictures of unborn babies on posters on campuses around the country. There is plenty of recruiting of people to spread the message, and there is direct confrontation of women. There is discussion of vigilantism and violence against abortion clinics, and the idea that those who kill abortion doctors are ironically "pro choice." At one point, a pro-life activist is challenged by a mother as to whether personally wants to provide foster care or adopt the additional children who would be born. The film shows the headquarters of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. Blogger discussion.


Related reviews: Palindromes  Twilight of the Golds

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