Mrs. Miniver (1942) Director: William Wyler
“…this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom.”
The speech above is delivered at the end of the film by a vicar in a bombed out church. Apparently, President Roosevelt expedited the release of the film so he could use portions of the speech to help rouse Americans to the cause with his own war-time speeches. He had the film’s speech reprinted in popular magazines, like “Time,” and dropped over German territories. Even Winston Churchill once noted the film’s impact on American support for the war. Mrs. Miniver is often remembered as a remarkable Allied propaganda movie released during World War II (in fact, Goebbels once praised its propagandist appeal in the ways it incites hatred toward Germany). Mrs. Miniver was a critical success, and it has had a particularly lasting legacy in England. It won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Mrs. Miniver is a domestic, upper middle-class English drama that follows the trials of one family during the advent of World War II. It is based on the 1937 serial published by Jan Struther in “The Times.” The film is beautifully shot, though the pacing makes it a bit of a slog to get through. It is certainly not one of my favorite Best Picture winners.
Mrs. Miniver takes place in a fictional town just outside London called Belham. The family of Kay Miniver (played by Greer Garson) lives on the Thames in a large home during the idle and simple days of 1939. Kay’s husband, Clem (played by Walter Pidgeon) is a successful architect in London. They have two children and one older son, named Vin, who is a student at Oxford. The bulk of the story follows Vin as he falls in love, proposes marriage, and joins the war, while his paramour is arbitrarily attacked by a German. The people of London, including the Minivers, help in the rescue of Dunkirk and London is then attacked by the Germans. In the end, Vin’s lover dies in machine gun fire just after “Mrs. Miniver” wins first prize in the annual flower competition. The movie ends with a call to arms and unity from the local priest.
A sequel was released in 1950 with the same actors reprising their roles. Wyler later remarked that the original was naïve.