VERA DRAKE star Imelda Staunton was drunk when cameras started to roll on the movie's improvised finale - because unconventional director Mike Leigh plied her with brandy in the build-up to the harrowing scene.

The 61-year-old film-maker kept details of the script from the whole cast in the hope their reactions to sudden plot changes would be genuine.

And when the entire Vera Drake team were relaxing and drinking alcohol, Leigh decided the time was perfect to spring the final scene - in which the title character's sideline in illegal abortions is exposed - on his leading lady.

Staunton, 49, says, "The film was most improvised and I was the only actor to know about Vera's work. Mike didn't want the rest of the cast to know until the denouement, when Vera is arrested. But not even I knew when this would take place.

"When it did, we were all sat around the dining table filming a celebratory dinner. We were drinking real cherry brandy as we couldn't find anything that looked realistically similar. So I started to feel very relaxed and a bit tipsy, thinking this was one of the easier scenes.

"Then the police arrived, so the day turned into an eight hour improvisation of the most critical part of the story - and I was tipsy on cherry brandy!"

20/01/2005 14:05