Mrs. Miniver – William Wyler
Next morning, the Minivers attend church, and the vicar (Henry Wilcoxon), the local representative of the Church of England, which, in turn, represents England’s strength and heritage, announces that the country is at war.
The war changes life, but at the same time life remains unchanged. The eldest son joins the R.A.F., but is stationed at a local airfield. Mrs. Miniver is still a pillar of society, a representative of English motherhood at its best. She seems to embody the idea that the English are indomitable be it in capturing a German airman who tries to hide in her house or in comforting her children as they take cover in the air-raid shelter. Then, she and Lady Beldon’s granddaughter are caught in an air raid while driving home from the first flower show of the war—the flower show at which Lady Beldon has recognized the superiority of the “Mrs. Miniver Rose,” just as she has allowed her granddaughter to marry the Minivers’ eldest son; the car is hit by machine-gun fire and her daughter-in-law is killed.
Mr. Miniver also proves his determination in the face of enemy action, as he and the other men of the village fetch their boats and sail to Dunkirk to rescue the stranded British soldiers. Whatever they do in Mrs. Miniver, this average, ordinary English family seems rather extraordinary.
At first it appears as if the film will end on a tragic note. Mrs. Miniver’s daughter-in-law is dead, the village is in ruins and the church roof shattered. But the vicar, like Mrs. Miniver a symbol of enduring strength, courage, and faith, gathers his congregation together. In a speech intended as much for the American moviegoer as for the villagers, the vicar says, “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.” As the Miniver clan stands, a formation of R.A.F. planes is seen in the sky through the bombed roof of the church, and the choir breaks into “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The ending is either inspiring or pure kitsch, depending on one’s viewpoint.
As an interesting aside, director William Wyler and actor Henry Wilcoxon apparently found the vicar’s speech as written too palid and rewrote much of it. President Roosevelt was so impressed that he had the speech printed on leaflets to be dropped over German-occupied Europe.
Mrs. Miniver is what is best described as a polished production, impeccably made and impeccably acted, but lacking any warmth or genuine emotion. The camerawork, for example, is good, but so uninspired that it is amazing that Joseph Ruttenberg should have received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on the film.
However, Mrs. Miniver was highly honored on its initial release. It received six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Direction. It broke box-office records during its ten-week run at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Radio City Music Hall was also the site for the New York premiere of a 1950 sequel, The Miniver Story, filmed in England, which reunited Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Reginald .Owen, and Henry Wilcoxon from the original cast in the adventures of Mrs. Miniver following VE Day. That film ended with the death of Mrs. Miniver.
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