“The Minivers,” a middle-class English family, struggle to have a normal life during the difficult first years of World War II. “The Minivers” go through many ups and downs, but the family is held together thanks to the strength and courage of the matriarch of the clan, Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson, Goodbye Mr. Chips).
Reaction & Thoughts:
“This is the people’s war! It is our war! We are the fighters!”
In 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that Mrs. Miniver “was more vital to the nation than a fleet of destroyers.” That statement was not an exaggeration, but an honest indication of how the movie was perceived – many observers thought that Mrs. Miniver could help boost the morale of the allies during World War II. Even 70 years after the film was released, one can see why it was deemed important and why it quickly became one of the biggest box office hits of the 1940s.
Mrs. Miniver tells the story of a British family during a time of war, with its matriarch serving as the tower of strength that holds everything together. In a way, Mrs. Miniver represents the motherland: resilient and endurable, just the kind of image someone like Churchill was hoping England would project during a time of national crisis. It’s indeed an effective piece of propaganda that also happens to be a pretty good film.
Directed by William Wyler (Wuthering Heights) from a script by George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West and Arthur Wimperis, based upon the novel by Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver is satisfying but not really classic cinema. I just don’t love it the way I love other movies from 1942 — Warners’ classic weepie Now Voyager, RKO’s horror masterpiece Cat People, Disney’s animated tour-de-force Bambi and Orson Welles’s mutilated The Magnificent Ambersons are much closer to my heart.
Mrs. Miniver is a tad too polished for its own good. I would have loved to see less glitz and more grime. “The Minivers” live in a beautiful mansion by the lake, they even have servants, yet they keep telling you that they are your typical middle-class English family (?). Frankly, I didn’t see much struggle here. But what do I know? People flocked to see the film! Audiences obviously love the movie’s message of hope.
Never mind my complaints, Mrs. Miniver is a great example of the “home-front picture” subgenre, a type of film that flourished during the ’40s. Film studios deliberately produced war stories told from the perspective of civilians, and audiences responded with their approval. Although some of the flag-waving gets to be a bit too much, Mrs. Miniver manages to press the right emotional buttons — it’s a nice movie.
Mrs. Miniver also has a rock-solid cast. Greer Garson plays the title character, but she really doesn’t have as much screen time as you might expect — this is pretty much an ensemble piece. She’s ably supported by frequent co-star Walter Pidgeon (Forbidden Planet) — Garson and Pidgeon have, of course, tremendous chemistry!
Although Teresa Wright (The Little Foxes and The Pride of the Yankees) won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Garson’s daughter-in-law, I didn’t think Wright was particularly great — she has done much better elsewhere. Dame May Whitty (The Lady Vanishes) and Henry Travers (It’s A Wonderful Life) were also nominated for their fine work. Henry Wilcoxon (Samson and Delilah) plays the Vicar.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Mrs. Miniver clicked with the public and soon became the “must-see” film of 1942, eventually taking a basket full of Oscars. Obviously, modern sensibilities are going to play an important part in how well one responds to the film. I think the film holds up pretty well, and propaganda aspects aside, this is a good movie with a powerful message about perseverance and hope. B&W, 134 minutes, Not Rated.
Followed by The Miniver Story (1950)