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VERA DRAKE (2004) movie directed by Mike Leigh

Set in a poor part of London in 1950… There is a post-blitz housing shortage and food is still severely rationed. Mike Leigh’s film is notable for its meticulous attention to period detail and the fact that the dialogue was almost entirely improvised. Most actors did not know what the film was really about until the final revelatory scenes. Their reactions were, in the context of the intimate acting ensemble, authentic.

The Vera Drake scenario occurs in a different place and time from our own. To some extent we can take a socio-anthropological approach. These are fictive lives (albeit exhibiting a high degree of Verisimilitude) at once remove from our own situation. We have the luxury of some critical distance and objectivity.

Thinking about the Vera Drake context has some connection with our discussions on female genital mutilation. Although the movie is fiction (It reads like a good novel.) both scenarios contain all-too-human, complex, context-bound, politico-ethical dilemmas that can be viewed from multiple perspectives.

High definition trailer:



Before starting the movie students are given this first set of guiding questions. Students are asked to provide written responses at appropriate moments as the movie story line progresses. 

1. From the evidence of the movie so far, differentiate between being rich and poor with regard to access to legal and safe abortion in Britain just after the Second World War.

2. How is euphemistic language used with regard to sex, pregnancy and abortion in the movie? Give a few examples… 

3. What are your first impressions of Vera?


How can we use multiple theoretical ethical frames in order to move beyond intuitive "snap judgments" or simplistic subjective relativism when analyzing complex ethical scenarios?

Maximum word count: 1200 
Strong first draft due: Friday, November 11th 

Your essay must include three paragraphs that analyze the ethical implications arising from the actions of Vera, and at at least two other female characters in the Vera Drake movie, from a deontological, a utilitarian and an intentionality perspective.

Feel free to integrate the importance of language for mapping the ethical territory. In your final paragraph you must come to your own nuanced conclusion/synthesis encompassing, but also moving beyond the "saint vs. serial killer" dichotomy.