Since we are well into the War on Women and Planned Parenthood in Indiana now has to turn away medicaid recipients, I thought I should watch Vera Drake. A few months ago I watched Story of Women with the incomparable Isabelle Huppert. One of these stories is fiction, the other is based on a real woman. The differences are telling.
Vera Drake is a saint. She's poor but she loves and cares for her family and neighbors. She "helps women" (and never says abortion) out of the kindness of her heart and not for any money. The first third of the movie is all about her moving through space doing kind acts and making tea for everyone she comes across.
In contrast, Huppert's Marie is a bit vain, also poor but decidedly more materialistic than Vera Drake. She cheats on her husband. She's friends with prostitutes. We're made to see her as human, flawed, but still providing a service desperately needed in Nazi occupied France and providing for her family better than her husband can. (Oh the feminism, it burns the little men).
Marie is the real story, and it's based on the life and death of Marie-Louise Geraud who was the last woman guillotined in France. She was sentenced to death for performing abortions.
Vera, a fictional saint pulled from the mind of Mike Leigh, gets 2 years and meets a bunch of other women in prison for the same thing. And she never ever stands up for herself or the women she has helped. She just whimpers and snivels and accepts her fate and apologizes.
Here's the thing, we don't need straw saints, anymore than we need straw people in general. Vera Drake is an okay movie. You'd only see it if you were already pro-choice anyways. Story of Women is a fantastic movie. Sit through the subtitles, it's worth it to watch a fully fleshed out human being portrayed.
(yes I used that title as a Dickens reference to another story, set in both England and France, about a miscarriage of justice)