Where: Gloomy, Dickensian, post-war London. The working class neighborhoods, with their sordid little apartments. Grayish walls and screeching stairs. Cold and damp air. Nippy, foggy mornings.
Who: Vera Drake. Putting the kettle on. Humming while cleaning and scrubbing and taking care of everything. Making nice cups of fresh tea. For her numb and autistic mother, for a neighbor in a wheelchair, for her two kids, for the young fellow living alone across the hall. Moving her petite silhouette and spreading the bright vigor. Smiling and helping just about everyone. Including girls she shouldn’t.
When: Early 1950s. The calm, settled-down life after the war. The swing and tango dancing nights. The inherent happiness of a country out of war, despite shortages.
What: Vera’s “helping young girls out”. Friday after Friday, always at 5 o’clock, she goes with her red rubber syringe and pumps soap water inside them. The mothers of seven kids living in two rooms, the young black girls just landed from some far-away colony, the unfaithful wives feeling guilty while their husbands fight in Korea. Always poverty, nervousness and trembling legs spreading. She never asks for money. Always calls them “dear” and “love”, touches their bellies gently and asks them to tell when they feel full.
Why: Because she just can’t help but helping. Because they can’t afford it and they need it. (On a slightly sketched and unfinished narrative moving in parallel for a while, we see a glimpse of how this is done in the world of the rich. Equally distressing and significantly more expensive. However, legal.)
Side-notes: Themewise, close to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Equally numerous and well-deserved awards. Some significant differences: the manifestations of fear and guilt (complete paralysis vs. desperately looking for solutions); the behavior of “authorities” involved (the unbelievable kindness and gentility of the policemen vs. the inherent meanness of everyone with some kind of administratively significant position)