Vera Drake | 2004
Mike Leigh’s affecting and Oscar-nominated drama mixes beautifully observed performances with some surprisingly clunky cliches and plot contrivances.
The 1950 period is conveyed by perfectly chosen locations around London. Interior sets were built at Hornsey Central Hospital, Park Road, Hornsey, N8, which was also used as a rehearsal space.
Director Leigh envisioned Vera (Imelda Staunton) as a North Londoner, living in Copenhagen Street, the Ladykillers’ neighbourhood near King’s Cross (she gives her address as (‘82 Essex Buildings, Oslo Street’). The ideal housing block was found in the East End, Cressy Houses, at the south end of Hannibal Road, off Mile End Road, near Stepney Green tube, E1.
The local boozer, though, where Vera’s son, Sidney, and his pals keep the wheels of the alternative economy turning, is in Copenhagen Street. It was The Mitre, 181 Copenhagen Street, N1. Sadly, like many London pubs, it's now closed and is being converted to residential use.
Vera’s husband, Stan (Philip Davis) works for his brother at ‘Frank Drake’s Garage’, which is the nearby North London Freight Depot, York Way at King’s Cross.
Frank, and his upwardly-mobile wife Joyce, live further north, at 4 Wood Vale, Hornsey, N10, alongside Queen’s Wood, near Highgate tube.
Getting away from the Mitre, Sidney and his mates let rip, pre-rock’n’roll style, with the local girls at the Mildmay Club, 34 Newington Green, N16; while Vera’s daughter, Ethel, walks in the park with good-natured neighbour Reg (Eddie Marsan) in St Dunstan’s Cemetery, Whitehorse Road, Stepney, E1.
On to Leigh’s weaker spot, the ghastly middle classes. Mabel Fowler’s basement, where Vera polishes the brass, David’s flat and the private clinic to which Susan is sent for her termination, were all in Portland Place, Fitzrovia, W1. Fitzrovia is named for Fitzroy Square, and it’s 6 Fitzroy Square which became the house of Susan Wells and her family.
This was the benighted 50s, and when one of the girls Vera tries to help gets sick, the law descends on the Drake household. The police station to which Vera is taken, and the magistrate’s court in which she’s charged, are the Old Thames Magistrates Court, Arbour Square, off Commercial Road, Stepney, E1.
The Central Criminal Court, the ‘Old Bailey’, in which Vera is sentenced to prison, is County Hall Kingston, Penrhyn Road, Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey.