Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Synopsis:

“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:

In 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said 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 – at the time, many observers thought that Mrs. Miniver could help boost the morale of the allies during WW II. Even 70 years after the film was released, one can see why the film was deemed important and why the movie 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 (The Letter) 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.

In spite of that, Mrs. Miniver is a very good example of the “WWII 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) — the actors 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)

20 responses to “Mrs. Miniver (1942)

  1. Nice review!

    I recently taught a class on WWII Cinema and my students all said they enjoyed this film. They thought the twist at the end – killing Wright’s character when the film leads you to expect Ney’s character to die – was a good touch that demonstrated the human stakes of the war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s great! I would love to take a film class! I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that your students reacted well to the film. My experience is that young people tend to be very, very close-minded regarding older films. Anyhow, you are right about Ney’s character. I thought his death was a sure thing so Wright’s death was a real shocker.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The class was actually filled with people who were retired, so the movies were from their parents generation, so they were really open minded about it.

        Though I’ve also been teaching a class for high school students and interestingly enough, I think silent movies have actually proven more accessible than some ’30s and ’40s films. I wonder if it is the emphasis on physical expression and action. Though Hitchcock also seems to go over well with high school students.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmm … that’s VERY interesting. I think you are right. Maybe young people have a problem with dialogue in older films, which tends to be literate and grammatically correct. Modern films try to mimic regular people’s mishandling of the English language.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That could be. Good point. And they do seem to have a rapid fire delivery, particularly in the 1930s. Perhaps millennials are simply not trained to listen as much…to radio, people reading aloud, a more talky film?

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, I was wondering if you would ever be interested in co-hosting a blogathon with me? I don’t have the details figured out yet, but would really like to host a blogathon on movies from the year 1941 sometime next year. I think it would be fun to include all movies from any country.

    I totally understand if you are unable to, though, but wondered because you mentioned how interesting you thought that topic would be.

    Liked by 1 person

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