Directed by Mike Leigh, starring Imelda Staunton, Phil Davis, Eddie Marsan, Alex Kelly, Daniel Mays, Sally Hawkins, Ruth Sheen and Peter Wight.

Writer-director Mike Leigh's 'Vera Drake', set in 1950s London, is a compelling portrait of social injustice and the altruistic lengths to which people will go to make things better for others.

Vera Drake (Staunton) is wife to Stan (Davis) and mother to Sid (Mays) and Ethel (Kelly). She leads a hectic life, looking after her family, cleaning the homes of the well to do to bring in some much-needed money and visiting her invalid neighbours. She's also kind-hearted, inviting another neighbour, Reg (Marsan), home for dinner so he can eat a decent meal.

But what her loved ones don't know about Vera is that, for several years, she has been helping working class women abort unwanted pregnancies. Her school friend Lily (Sheen) puts her in contact with women of all ages, who either can't, or won't continue their pregnancies. Vera never questions what she's doing, content to help these women because they have no one else to turn to.

While she takes care of her 'patients', Vera's practice is not without risk and a young woman almost dies after the procedure. When the police interrupt a family celebration to question her, it quickly becomes clear to Vera that her desire to help these women means nothing in the eyes of the law, which sees her only as a criminal.

The ease with which wealthy young women like Susan (Hawkins), the daughter of one of Vera's employers, could procure abortions with the funds to buy the silence of medical practitioners contrasts starkly with Vera's perceived duty to help downtrodden women in need. This is just one strand of the exploration of morality and injustice in Leigh's well-written, complex and thought-provoking film.

Staunton is wonderful as Vera, the kindly housewife whose only desire is to do good. The supporting cast also excel, particularly Alex Kelly and Eddie Marsan as the shy Ethel and Reg, whose inner strengths are called upon when the family begins to disintegrate.

'Vera Drake' isn't so much about the abortion debate as it is an exploration of how things were for women like Vera, their families and the people whose lives they touched. It's a bleak, harrowing tale that speaks volumes, even in its silence.

Katie Moten