An essential watch for any film fan and a great companion for several World War II films. This week for our Oscar Bait series of reviews where we watch a past Best Picture winning film randomly selected each week, we had to watch the 1942 film, Mrs. Miniver. Coming off of The Greatest Show On Earth, I was hoping this next classic film would pack a little more punch with its story. I knew nothing about this movie going in and had never even heard of it despite my several film classes. I guess that just goes to show that I must not have done enough research of past winners as I maybe should have. I can’t say I was entirely excited since watching these older films tend to have drawbacks such as being black and white or dated special effects, but of course I went in open minded and ready for whatever it was about to give me.
This movie is a little slow to start as it sets up our main character Mrs. Miniver who lives a life of extravagant spending and returns home to her husband and children. They take time to develop this family and how they are well off with a nice home and maids or butlers. While it really was slow to start because I wasn’t sure where the story was actually going, there is a point about thirty minutes in where you actually get to the heart of the film.
It’s about this family as they deal with the events of World War II, and not just living through its existing in the world, but rather having a son that is in the Royal Air Force and having some of the battle actually taking place in their town. It’s an interesting change in tone as we go from this upbeat kind of well off feeling with this family that changes into a more serious drama about the important things in life.
All of the characters are excellent with Vincent, the son, and Mrs. Miniver being the real standouts. Vincent was of course in the Royal Air Force and served as our possible fodder to the war at hand. For the longest time I was expecting this movie to go into a direction of maybe killing him off that it never takes. Rather this movie shows itself to be one of the earliest films I’ve seen so far to actually trick me with a twist that I didn’t see coming. SPOILER ALERT*** In case you don’t want this 80 year old movie spoiled for you, Vincent’s new wife Carol actually ends up being killed during the air raids above their small town.
It’s a twist that is unexpected and heartbreaking and very clever all that same time. It’s a moment like that where I feel at the time it came out, that it was probably a very bold decision to make, but narratively is such a smart choice that I applaud the director for being willing to take it. It’s a subversion of expectations that I believe strengthens this film to being very much worthy of its Best Picture win. It’s not just that twist that cements this movie as being a surprise hit for me though. It’s also the incredible directing, cinematography, and writing on top of all of the actors.
The writing, dialogue specifically is so sharp and quick that even though the movie feels like it’s moving slow, you are still invested in every word their saying because they don’t give you a second to think about the slower pace towards the beginning. On top of that though, the writing is clever and witty and just makes the movie that much more fun as I feel the actors truly embrace the characters the more they actually get into the quick pace of talking and snappy dialogue. It makes them easier to connect with and feel for.
One of the true highlights of The Greatest Show on Earth was the train wreck scene that happened towards the end of the film. I could very much tell that it was a model, but it still held up as being impressive to watch. This movie is older, but has a scene in which we a see a huge group of ships joining together as they head towards the battle of Dunkirk to rescue the soldiers on the beach. It’s a shot that is visually impressive and I really can’t tell if they are models or if it was done with real ships. Either way it doesn’t matter because it’s one of the best shots of the whole movie.
Also on a side note, I mentioned the battle of Dunkirk which this movie talks about and if you haven’t watched the Christopher Nolan film “Dunkirk” then I definitely recommend watching it before giving this a watch. It’s not necessary to enjoy this movie, but adds another layer because I know what the battle of Dunkirk is like and what was actually happening since we don’t actually see it in Mrs. Miniver. As I said in the beginning of this review, this is a great movie to watch along with several other World War II films because this will add some understanding to the more civilian element of what the war was like.
Finally, it’s clear that none of this would have been successful if it weren’t for the director who managed to pull all of this together and make a movie that is truly impressive and is great to watch. The only issue I did have other than the beginning being a little slow is that the rose competition sucks since I can’t actually see the difference in the roses. I know that they are different shades of grey, but I just wish I could see this movie in its full color just to have a better understanding of that competition. I would definitely watch it again in a heartbeat if there happened to be a color version, but really though this movie is great.
Look, I know that there aren’t too many people out there, especially in my generation or younger, that would be willing to seek out this movie and watch it, but hear me out. If you love movies and the history of film and like to go out of your way to better understand where your favorite directors learned from then you need to go back to the past and watch these movies. Not all of them are going to be easy to watch or enjoyable, but you have to venture out and give them a shot. Mrs. Miniver is a must watch for any film buff or film history fan and I really think it should be watched for anyone who wants to branch out and broaden their spectrum of movies they’ve seen.