Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, UK, 2004)
I've never been a huge fan of Leigh's films, but Vera Drake is by far the most emotionally powerful. Led by a fantastic performance by Imelda Stauton in the lead role, the film is a expert examination of working class Britain in the 1950s. That Vera is a doting housewife by day and still secretly helps women induce miscarriages (abortion being illegal) is really two sides of the same coin. Leigh has crafted the film through Stauton's performance, a character in Vera who will do almost nothing to help those no matter what the situation. That most of the women in need of Vera's help are poor, uneducated, and taking on a child would be a financial burden tells much more of class and status in Britain more than abortion. The film never really takes a political stance on abortion as it's using the issue to expose the characters and class issues. Eventually Vera is found out and the film turns a little bit from precise cultural examination into melodrama but it never loses its emotional punch. It's almost impossible to not see Vera as a victim as she repeats she was only doing what she could to help. Those with social agenda to grind will find fault in it, but it's awfully hard not to be swayed into sympathizing with her.