Mrs. Miniver, 1942

In the Anderson shelter

In the Anderson shelter

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.

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Miniver home after a bombing raid

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

Tea on the terrace

Tea on the terrace

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.

Wilcoxon Speech

Wilcoxon Speech

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 Picture
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.

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6 Comments

Filed under 1940s, Battle of Britain, History, Movies

6 responses to “Mrs. Miniver, 1942

  1. JoJo

    Mrs. Miniver. Your review is so sweet! This is not a man’s review so I am not qualified to judge it. The language is…oh….what is the word?…Chatty; maybe, but very informative. I think it must be perfect for those that want to snuggle down in an easy chair and have a nice cup of warm tea with their close female chum and just talk about it. Just Perfect! 🙂

  2. This was very nice. I have watched Mrs Minirva about 3 times and loved it every time. It’s one of those movies I don’t tire of. Sweet post.

  3. Pingback: Books Read in October, 2009 « carla-at-home

  4. sdaven5191

    Review nicely done. I love this movie to pieces, have it recorded (and locked in) on my DVR, and watch it frequently. I recently re-recorded it when TCM showed it within the context of a month long series done in conjunction with a book that had been done by a young man, called “Five Came Back.” It covered the work done by five Hollywood movie directors who had all joined the military during WWII, before, during and after the war. Mrs. Miniver was one movie started just before Pearl Harbor, and finished up after our entry into the War. It was a very popular movie on both sides of the “Pond” of course, as Mr. Churchill noted. And the Wilcoxon Speech is just as stirring to me as I’m sure it must have been then. William Wyler was deeply affected by his own inadequate portrayal of the conditions the British people endured during their first two years of War facing the German onslaught directly, after he had been sent to England right after joining the Army. He carried that with him through the War, and into his work on his first movie done in the States after the War, “The Best Years of Our Lives.” He was exceptionally careful to be sure there was no sense of “Hollywood” fakeness in the movie, right down to camera angles and wardrobe. He actually had the principle women players, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, and Virginia Mayo, shop for and buy their own wardrobes in local department stores, relying on what was available to ordinary American women like the parts they played in the movie, instead of being specially designed by costume designers or departments. Even the sets were exceptionally honest in their portrayal of the types of homes and other scenes the actors were found in, such as Fred Derry’s home beside the railroad tracks with his semi-alcoholic father and his stepmother; and Homer’s family home in the street of 1920’s Bungalows; and the apartments used for Fred and Marie’s two room apartment home, circa 1920’s, with the living-bedroom with the Murphy bed, dressing table closet and kitchen with tiny nook and foldout table. Of course a small bathroom would have been included, but there was no pressing need to show it, and its size likely prevented it anyway. Then there was Al and Milly Stephenson’s upper-middle class home of six rooms and terrace on the 4th floor of a building with a supervised access through a lobby with potted palms, chandeliers, marble floors and elevator attendant. You’ll notice that unlike a Hollywood sound stage set, the rooms have ceilings you can actually see, and you always get a sense of the rooms having all the walls they should have, instead of continuous openness at the edges.
    For instance, the rooms in Homer’s family home in the bungalow ~ his bedroom with all the expected decorations and photographs of him from before he lost his hands. And his little sister’s tiny bedroom in a dormer of the house. That room is so tiny they had to film from the hallway because there wasn’t room for any camera equipment. And the kitchen with its very small wall shelf above the pre-war refrigerator for the small amount of packaged foods that were in use then.
    And also the same with Wilma’s house next door, which we see during the final wedding scene mostly. A glimpse we get through the window when Homer is walking about in the evening, and pondering his existence and his future, and he stops as he notices Wilma helping with the evening chores by putting away dishes in the dining room china cabinet.
    But I go on too much! I’m not here to review another movie really, but to add my comments to yours. There was absolutely no hint of the shortages or severe rationing that England was forced to engage in and endure during the War (and for many years following) in “Mrs. Miniver”, of course after they were involved in the War. Or the unquestioned draft of not just the men into military service, but all the women between certain ages into factory or other forms of civilian War Work, if they were not already in the military themselves. And it was a real draft – no one could quit their war job or even be fired from it without government permission! Of course, social and peer pressure was brought to bear on anyone who happened to be less than completely dedicated to the cause at hand – their very survival. Being a matter of 20 miles or just a little more from Germany – across the English Channel – put the Front on most people’s front doorstep. It’s not like they had the buffer of an entire ocean between them. And not just for single women, but married women as well, as were the men, whether or not they had dependents. There was the Home Guard for men who were too old to serve in the regular military, but we do get a sense of service done by the two oldest Miniver men, Vin in the Air Corps and Clem in the service that put him and his boat into the dangerous rescue efforts of the men at Dunkirk. Even their maid went into the W.A.A.F., and their cook into Canteen service for the Tank Corps, but for the two Mrs. Minvers, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of War service of any kind. Their biggest concern seems to be the village Flower Show, in which we find out at the end, that Mr. Ballard, who won the prize for Best Rose, then lost his own life one hour later during the air raid by the Luftwaffe. That just isn’t very genuine. And their traveling around, seemingly without limitation, in their own private car was also mythological,, as gasoline for private civilian use was just not available. Cars were stored “for the duration.” I’ve seen other comments from some British civilians on the movie, indicating the damage shown to their home following the air raid was just not realistic, as it would have been much more severely damaged with piles of dust where walls used to be, and so on. My take would be it pretty much depends on how close the strikes actually came to the house. But then that’s me. I wasn’t there, and my own mother was 10 when the war ended. I was a part of the biggest portion of the Baby Boom, having been born in 1957. I have, however, done a lot of reading and research on conditions during the War, military and civilian.
    In your listing of the other movies where you have seen the primary actors, you listed “Meet Me In St. Louis” as a vehicle for Walter Pidgeon. That is also a favorite of mine in its big screen form, but most people, including myself until I just researched it, weren’t aware that he appeared in the 1959 TV movie version, because I know he wasn’t in the big movie version with Judy Garland.
    I do happen to recall the very first time I became aware of him – it was when he played the King in the 1965 TV version of “Cinderella” with Lesley Ann Warren playing the title role, and Jo Van Fleet playing the wicked stepmother quite effectively! I was all of 8 years old, and Cinderella was my favorite story. He was also awesome as Florenz Zigfield in “Funny Girl” opposite Barbra Streisand. But if you want to see him at some of his best, check out “How Green Was My Valley.” He’s wonderful there opposite Maureen O’Hara. Also, he’s excellent in “Million Dollar Mermaid,” “Holiday In Mexico,” “Blossoms in the Dust,” and “Madame Curie.”
    In any case, Mrs. Miniver was, for its time, a very polarizing vehicle for the people on both sides of the Atlantic, and served a greater purpose than that for which it was intended. It’s a Top Five favorite of mine, along with its Post-War follow-up, “The Best Years…et al” which is on my TV via my DVR right this moment!

  5. sdaven5191

    Oh, I almost forgot ~ you know about Richard Ney and Greer Garson, right? I can see that developing during the movie! If you watch their scenes together, it’s almost like watching Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in ‘To Have and Have Not”!
    Of course, the whole thing for these two only lasted five years, and I understand from what I’ve read, that it was pretty confrontational by the time they ended it. Too bad. But, unfortunately it became just another Hollywood marriage statistic.

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