1942 - United States - 134 minutes
Writers - George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West, and Arthur Wimperis
Based upon the essays of Jan Struther
Director - William Wyler
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars
This classic film recently released on DVD is probably the best know of all the propaganda films disguised as a "regular movie" of the WWII era. It won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. Of the power of the film to influence public opinion, Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that it was, "more powerful to the war effort than the combined work of six military divisions." Director Wyler admitted to making the film with the mind of getting more citizens of the United States to support the war.
In reading over reviews and comments about Mrs. Miniver, I am reminded of the statement made by my brother, Randy, in a recent essay:
I'm convinced that popular culture has a greater effect in shaping the public mind than any other influence, and certainly more than so-called serious activities such as foreign policy debate. What happens on popular TV shows and in popular movies affects how people think and, perhaps more potently, affects what they value.
It seems that he and Winston have something upon which they agree.
Aside for all of this, the movie is just good entertainment. It's true that the village in which the Minivers live is an idealized, Americanized view of a quaint English village with quaint English characters. But that's something that makes the film more powerful because the viewer of the film is able to see what the horrors of war do to such a place. I am reminded of the bomb shelter scene which begins almost lightly with the family carrying on as usual and ends with a realistic impression of the tense horror that was experienced repeatedly by the English citizens.
I read somewhere that William Wyler was always considered a "woman's director," and Mrs. Miniver is, indeed, a film about stanch women. Greer Garson as Mrs. Miniver, Teresa Wright, as her daughter-in-law, and Dame May Whitty as the grandmother of the younger Mrs. Miniver. The men in the film are brave, honest, and forthright, but they come close to becoming set pieces for these three extraordinary actresses.
Wyler knows how to portray their quiet strength in many subtle ways. In one scene, the Miniver son is called back to action earlier than expected. Garson and Wright are waiting for him to come down the stairs to leave, and all we see are their backs. When the son appears at the top of the stairs, a slight change in posture of the two portrays volumes of dialog. And, of course, there is the more well-known scene when Mrs. Miniver confronts the German pilot. Again, we see facial expressions and subtle movements portray both fear and strength.
The black and white cinematography of the film also won an Academy Award, and it is crisply transposed to DVD. There are numerous interesting camera angles - especially during some of the important conversations in the film. These are supported by sweeping scenes of both beauty at the beginning of the film and devastation as the film progresses. I am assuming that the film was made in black and white simply because that was the prevailing method at the time, but I think that we - some sixty-four years later - can be grateful that it was. Black and white photography enables us to better focus upon the emotions in the film. After all, those emotions - due to the propagandistic nature of the film - are black and white.
OK, so Mrs. Miniver is schmaltz. It is extraordinary schmaltz with all the qualities that come together to make a classic film that will be watched and enjoyed for generations. If you remember this film from your childhood or have never heard of it, I recommend a viewing for it is definitely worth two hours of your time.
February 27, 2006