After the fall of France, England was struggling for survival under the relentless pounding by the Germans. Tens of thousands of civilian lives and homes were lost. For over two years they alone fought the Nazis. Then we were attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. America was immediately thrust into a two-front war, with very little preparation. President Roosevelt had to choose where to concentrate our first efforts and he chose to stand with England while we rebuilt our decimated Navy. Americans didn’t understand that decision because the Pacific was where we’d been attacked. He felt it was vitally important to have the support of the American people in giving England much needed help.
This is the story of a family, of a little boy who takes his cat into the air raid shelter (of course, the cat looks calmer than anyone else), of the difficulty of a changing society, of romance. Of the importance of roses and those beloved cats. It is cozy, humorous and suspenseful. Most of all, it is the story of perseverance, courage and faith that sustains us in treacherous times.
Mrs. Miniver was used as the tool to illustrate to the American people just how rough the war had been on ordinary English citizens. And it worked. Winston Churchill was very pleased by the reaction to both the book and the movie. He’s quoted by Bernard Wasserstein as saying that they did as much good as “six divisions of war effort”.
There’s been a lot of criticism of Mrs. Miniver for being war propaganda. And I suppose it was, but still, it was accurate; actually maybe it wasn’t accurate enough. William Wyler, the director, joined the U.S. Army after the filming was completed and was overseas when he won the Oscar. He later said that he had been too soft in his portrayal of war. It seems hypocritical to me that modern critics ignore the blatant, agenda driven, anti-American bias in current films but point an accusing finger at patriotic movies. The fight was for the survival of the free world. And we should remember that it was made during the war. No one knew what the outcome would be but William Wyler was very clear about what we were fighting for.
A few of the reviews by the English complain about it being an unrealistic American view of them. If anyone from the UK reads this, I’d appreciate a comment from them concerning inaccuracies. I know it’s quite different from their modern culture, but things have changed. How truthfully does it portray the 1940’s? Also, the fake English accents have been pointed out. Well, yes. I’m sure the British are sensitive about that. I know that when I watch British productions like Fawlty Towers or Foyle’s War or Agatha Christie stories, I’m sensitive to not only how we are portrayed but also by the flat accents they employ when imitating us (they usually use British actors with fake American accents). Can you spot the Americans in Mrs. Miniver? There are only 3 in the 15 credited roles; 11 are from the United Kingdom, (mostly England), and 1 from Vienna. See * at bottom of page
I simply love this movie.
Sometimes after reading a story or watching a movie that I’ve really enjoyed, I want to know more about the story or the characters. And often, whichever one I read or see afterward is disappointing. But not Mrs. Miniver.
The movie is only based on the characters Jan Struther wrote about; originally the stories were printed in the Times (London), then compiled in novel form in 1939. The book is simply a collection of vignettes about the Miniver family. Almost no events are transferred from the book but still the book and the movie fit together hand in glove. The screenwriters stayed very true to Struther’s tone and characters. More often than not, Hollywood has ruined original stories or at least twisted them out of all recognition. But not here. I feel that they took good material and improved it. Jan Struther was not Kay Miniver; she might have been someone I wouldn’t have liked. After reading about her life, I can say I probably wouldn’t have. But she was a good writer.
All of the actors are wonderful, especially … no, if I start naming all the good ones, I’d just end up listing the cast.
Some of the most memorable scenes: reading Alice in Wonderland aloud to the children in the Anderson shelter, tea on the terrace, when Kay hears his boat returning after Dunkirk. Possibly the very best is the last one: in the church Vin goes to stand beside Lady Beldon. And the vicar’s sermon. Incredibly stirring.
From imdb “The vicar’s speech near the end was reportedly re-written by William Wyler and Henry Wilcoxon the night before it was shot. It was translated into various languages and air-dropped in leaflets over German-occupied territory, was broadcast over the Voice of America, and reprinted in Time and Look magazines at Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s request. This speech has come to be known as The Wilcoxon Speech, in tribute to actor Henry Wilcoxon’s stirring delivery of it.” The enemy was recognized and survival required resistance. The sermon reflects Winston Churchill’s embracing words. Here is a short clip; this one is more complete.
Twelve Academy Award nominations, 6 wins.
Best Director – William Wyler
Best Actress – Greer Garson
Best Supporting Actress – Teresa Wright
Best Cinematography – Joseph Ruttenberg
Best Screenplay -George Froeschel, Claudine West, Arthur Wimperis & James Hilton (novels: Random Harvest, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon)
Where I’ve Seen Them
Greer Garson – Good-bye , Mr. Chips, Pride and Prejudice
Walter Pidgeon – Meet Me in St. Louis, Forbidden Planet
Teresa Wright – Shadow of a Doubt, The Best Years of Our Lives
Dame May Whitty – The Lady Vanishes, White Cliffs of Dover, Suspicion
Richard Ney – Midnight Lace
Henry Wilcoxon – The Ten Commandments, The Big Valley
Reginald Owen – Mary Poppins (Admiral Boom)
Henry Travers – Dark Victory, Shadow of a Doubt, It’s a Wonderful Life
Brenda Forbes – Blithe Spirit
Helmut Dantine – Casablanca (the young newlywed who loses at gambling). Although Austrian, he was really playing against type. He had been involved in the resistance and was arrested. His family secured his release and sent him to the U.S.
Very highly recommended.
If your library doesn’t have a copy, you can watch it on youtube. There was a sequel, The Miniver Story, filmed in 1950 with both Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, but I’ve not seen it (That’s what I’m doing tomorrow). This link has foreign sub-titles. Perhaps you can find one that doesn’t. If I do, I’ll update this post.
Please check back if you’re interested in this subject. I plan on writing more about this compelling period of history.
*The Americans are Teresa Wright, Richard Ney and Christopher Severn.