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Mrs. Miniver

Iím sure youíll understand that Hollywood in 1942 was a bit preoccupied by the war. World War II was still in the beginning stages and things werenít going all that well for the Allies. About the only bright spot was the resilience of England during the blitz.

Celebrating the resilience of England was 1942ís best picture winner Mrs. Miniver. Greer Garson plays the title character, proclaimed by a railway employee who rings the bell at church on Sundays to be the nicest woman in town. The movie starts in the spring of 1939 when the threat of war was hanging overhead, but the British people were focusing on simpler things. The railway employee wants to name a rose after Mrs. Miniver and enter it in a competition. The trouble is, no one has ever challenged Lady Beldon, so her granddaughter asks Mrs. Miniver to convince the challenger to withdraw. This request draws the ire of the Miniverís son, who has gone away for a year at Oxford and come back a Communist. Of course Comrade Vin Miniver and young Carol Beldon end up falling in love.

But then the war begins. Vin becomes a pilot and ships out. Mr. Miniver joins the river patrol and has to evacuate Dunkirk. And Mrs. Miniver is visited by an escaped German POW while heís gone.

The war is brought right to their doorstep when a German bomb destroys much of the Miniver house, but that doesnít stop the town from holding the flower show, where the judges choose Lady Beldonís rose over the Miniver, but Mrs. Miniver shames the defending champ into overruling the decision.

Tragedy strikes during an air raid when Mrs. Miniver and her daughter-in-law Carol are caught driving home with a dogfight directly overhead. Bullets pierce the roof of the car, killing Carol. At a church service after the air-raid, we learn that two other residents of the village have been killed. But in a stirring speech the preacher vows that despite these losses, England will fight on. Because this is a different sort of war, one not just fought by soldiers and sailors, but by the ordinary civilians.

This movie, Iím sure, was very inspiring when it was first made, but with the war and 65 years in the rearview mirror between now and then, Iím not getting much inspiration from it now. Garson does a good job, but the role itself is a little uneven. She sets one tone with a Mrs. Miniver who is able to stand up to a German pilot with grace and bravery, and quite another with a Mrs. Miniver who nervously yammers through an air-raid. As a character study we donít see much of the character. We see bits and pieces of a slice of life portrait, but not much depth.

And then we have the accents. Garson is an Englishwoman so she doesnít have to worry, but New York native Richard Ney plays Vin, and his accent comes and goes. That is at least better than Walter Pidgeon, the Canadian actor who plays Mr. Miniver. He doesnít even try a British accent. It is in his footsteps that Ben Affleck nobly followed while filming Reindeer Games, where he played a guy from Sidnaw (halfway between Trout Creek and the Covington J) and speaks in a Boston accent.

There are quite a few things to like about this movie. The shot of all the boats filling the river about to head for Dunkirk is amazing, but after that shot, we cut to Mrs. Miniver waiting for her husbandís return five days later, and we see nothing of the actualy evacuation (which itself would make for a wonderful movie). Garson is also very likable, and for a woman who acted in London stage productions more as a hobby than anything else until she was cast in Goodbye Mr. Chips at age 35 she shows remarkable skill.

This is a movie that falls squarely into the good but not great category of films. There was a good story to be told about the resolve of the English citizenry during the blitz, and it was told 45 years later and in a much better movie by John Boorman in Hope and Glory. I would have loved for this movie to live up to its potential, but I fear it doesnít. That trait is what makes it fit right in with all the other nominees from 1942. Pride of the Yankees and Yankee Doodle Dandy were both biopics that could best be described as OK. Magnificent Ambersons was good, but not nearly as magnificent as Orson Wellesí previous movie, Citizen Kane. All of these movies were lucky to even be in the running. Casablanca was ready to be rolled out in November 1942, and even had its world premiere in New York that month, but it didnít play in Los Angeles until the following spring, so it wasnít eligible for Oscar consideration for another year, when it was the surefire winner. Had it been up against Mrs. Miniver, Miniver wouldnít have stood a chance. But as blah as 1942ís winner was, it was better than its competition.


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