Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver (1942) is the first movie of the 1940s that I watched for the 365 Oscar Project and it definitely felt quintessentially 40s. The movie was made as a piece of World War II propaganda to entice the United States to join the war against Nazism and was advertised as the best movie ever made. Now, I wouldn’t go that far but it was a very good movie.

Mrs. Kay Miniver, the movie’s namesake, is the matriarch of a middle class British family. Well, they claim to be middle class at the beginning of the movie, but they do have a HUGE house and no less than three servants. Kay spends her days shopping and her husband Clem is a successful architect. They have three children Judy and Toby who are younger and Vin who is studying at Oxford. They live in a quiet village – the kind that has flower shows and glee clubs.

Mrs. Miniver is friendly with Mr. Ballard, a man who works at the train station in town. He grew a beautiful rose that he is going to enter into the annual Thames Valley Flower Show. He asks permission to name the rose after Mrs. Miniver, a sign that she is a beautiful and well-loved woman around town.

Vin returns from Oxford and is visiting at home with his parents when Carol Beldon, a young woman from the village, stops by to speak with Mrs. Miniver. She is the granddaughter of Lady Beldon, an older wealthy woman who has never lost the Themes Valley Flower Show. Carol’s hope is that Mrs. Miniver will ask Mr. Ballard to withdraw his rose. Mrs. Miniver won’t, but Carol’s trip isn’t in vein, as she and Vin hit it off.

Eight months pass and war begins in Britain. Vin joins the Royal Air Force, but has promised Carol his heart. The Miniver’s make a few minor adjustments for the war (dark curtains, building a bomb shelter) but they have yet to truly take the war seriously. Vin returns home one night and visits his family. He proposes marriage to Carol and only a few minutes after she accepts his proposal, he is called back to the Royal Air Force. Clem, who is a member of the Themes River Patrol, is called away in the middle of the night. Clem and the other men are annoyed at having to take to their boats, but they soon begin to take the war seriously when they learn they need to take their boats to France to rescue thousands of stranded British soldiers.

Kay wakes up the next morning and takes a walk around the house. She stumbles upon a wounded German soldier. He forces her into the house at gunpoint and demands food and milk. He eventually passes out from blood loss and Kay calls the police and takes his gun. The police come and take the man away. Much like her husband’s experience on the Themes River, Kay is now beginning to understand the seriousness of the war.

Shortly after, Vin returns home married to Carol. They move into the Miniver house, which has been badly damaged by German Air Raids. While they are home, the couple and Mrs. Miniver attend the Themes Valley Flower Show. Mr. Ballard is awarded the grand prize for his rose, the Mrs. Miniver. During the flower show the Air Raid siren goes off. Mrs. Miniver, Carol, and Vin ride to the Air Force base to drop Vin off for duty. Carol is wounded and dies shortly after. Vin returns home a few days later to attend Carol’s funeral.

The best part of the movie is the last few minutes. During Carol’s funeral the pastor gives a rousing speech about how this war is the people’s war and we all must fight. I’ve reprinted it below.

We, in this quiet corner of England, have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us - some close to this church: George West, choir boy; James Bellard, station master and bell ringer and a proud winner, only one hour before his death, of the Belding Cup for his beautiful Miniver rose; and our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There is scarcely a household that hasn't been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourself this question. Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness. Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed? I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is a war of the people, of all the people, and it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home, and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom! Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves and those who come after us from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the people's war! It is our war! We are the fighters! Fight it then! Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the right.

Here's the trailer for Mrs. Miniver.

Mrs. Miniver’s director, William Wyler, joined the US Army after making this movie. After having been to war, he said that Mrs. Miniver was too soft a depiction of actual war.

This movie was the first to ever be nominated for five acting Academy Awards. Greer Garson, who played Mrs. Miniver, gave the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history, a whooping 5 and a half minutes. The last piece of trivia – Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver) and Richard Ney (Vincent Miniver) got married after making this film. Kinda gross since she played his mom.

The Miniver Story (1950) was the sequel to this Oscar winner, but it bombed.

I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. Unfortunately, I found it more charming than anti-war. I think I’ve watched Saving Private Ryan too many times, which sort of tainted my ability to feel anything towards war that isn’t bloody.

Three out of five statuettes from me.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, yeah Greer marrying his "son" is such a good trivia :) I liked this movie, but yes, it was kind of soft.