How a £1.25m 'blind grant' led to Leigh's Venice triumph

Mike Leigh's portrait of a 1950s working class wife and mother who "helps out" pregnant girls by performing illegal, back-street abortions has been hailed as his greatest film since
Secrets and Lies. But when the UK Film Council agreed to stump up £1.25m to fund the film, it had no clear plot or script and was simply known as
Untitled '03.

Mike Leigh's portrait of a 1950s working class wife and mother who "helps out" pregnant girls by performing illegal, back-street abortions has been hailed as his greatest film since Secrets and Lies. But when the UK Film Council agreed to stump up £1.25m to fund the film, it had no clear plot or script and was simply known as Untitled '03.

What became Vera Drake went on to beat 21 contenders to win the Golden Lion prize for best film at the Venice Film Festival, while its lead star Imelda Staunton, won the best actress title.

For the UK Film Council, it was a "leap of faith" that clearly paid off. "Normally, one makes a decision on the basis of a screenplay. When Mike does a film, no one really knows what it's about," said Robert Jones, the head of the council's Premiere Fund, which channels money from the National Lottery into the British film industry. "He works with his own chosen actors. They workshop and improvise, so for us it was something of a leap of faith."

Accepting the prize at the awards gala in Venice's La Fenice theatre, Leigh paid tribute to the council for its support of the film, which cost £4.7m to make.

"All film-making is tough and Vera Drake was no exception," he said. "It was made under tough conditions with a ridiculously low budget. In a cynical world it is a wonderful thing and most reassuring when low budget, serious, committed, independent, European films are recognised and encouraged in this way and helped to reach their audiences."

The director also made a pointed reference to the organisers of the Cannes film festival who rejected Vera Drake out of hand earlier this year.

"I would like to thank most sincerely the Cannes Film Festival for rejecting this film so we might be here this evening," he said.

The director is famous for the process by which he improvises his stage plays and films with his cast - including the 1970s classic Abigail's Party, Naked and Secrets and Lies, which won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1996.

Next year, Leigh is due to present a play at the National Theatre which its director, Nicholas Hytner, also admits he knows nothing about.

It will have eight actors and they will have the unusually long period of 18 weeks of rehearsals starting in April to develop the project.

"He doesn't tell us what it's going to be and we will find out when he has done it. I'm very happy with that," Mr Hytner said.

But he admitted that Leigh was probably the only director he would trust to produce a work in that way.

Vera Drake stars Staunton as a kindly cleaning lady living a humble existence in post-war London with her mechanic husband, Stan, and their two grown-up children.

But Vera has a secret. Without accepting payment, she carries out abortions for young working-class girls who have "got themselves into trouble". When one of the girls she treats becomes seriously ill, the police are called in and Vera is sent to jail.

The film raises difficult questions about abortion, and highlights the hypocrisy of 1950s society, where the rich could pay for the discreet termination of a pregnancy but the poor were forced to risk their lives in dangerous back-street operations.

"The audience must walk away with a debate and struggle with it. These things are not black and white," said Leigh.

Mr Jones said: "Like any great film-maker, he has proved that he is able to address a contemporary, thorny issue in a way that is oblique enough and has enough other emotional elements not to preach to the audience."

Leading article, page 30

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower