Title: Mrs. Miniver
Release Date: 4 June, 1942
Oscar Ceremony: 4 March, 1943
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon & Teresa Wright
I don’t really research these movies before watching them, so I don’t know what I was expecting for Mrs. Miniver but it definitely wasn’t a serious war propaganda film, which is what it turned out to be. I’m not making this up: the director openly admitted that the reason he made this film was to combat American isolationism in regards to their participation in WW2. In other words, he thought that Americans should do more to join the war against Nazism, so he decided to show them what their pals across the pond were going through. The movie turned out to be extremely influential and contributed to America’s sympathy and involvement in the war. Behold the power of Hollywood.
Mrs. Miniver, what a woman. We initially witness her relaxed day-to-day English life during an afternoon of shopping. Her biggest worry is that she bought an overpriced hat and Mr. Miniver might not approve. Little does she know, the worst period of her existence is about to come with the start of WW2. On her way home from the hat store, we meet Mr. Ballard the stationmaster, who has decided to grow a rose and enter it in the upcoming flower contest. He names it Mrs. Miniver in her honour. It’s all lovely until a feisty young woman named Carol shows up at the Miniver home in attempt to get them to persuade Mr. Ballard to reconsider his decision to enter the contest. Every year, her grandmother is the only woman to enter that contest and she ALWAYS wins. It would be devastating to her if someone else were to take home the prize. Mrs. Miniver is very pleasant, but her son Vin is very outspoken and argues with Carol. You know what they say, opposites attract and the two end up getting married. We spend the rest of the movie worrying alongside Mrs. Miniver, as she witnesses her son and husband go off to war, not knowing whether they will return. We also share her trauma when she is held at gunpoint by a fallen German pilot in her own home, when she takes refuge in a shelter with her two young children during a terrifying air raid, and when her beautiful house is severely damaged by bombings. The feeling of tension and anxiety in these scenes is palpable. Other tragedies occur, but she manages to stay as strong as she can. There’s something truly remarkable about her and Greer Garson, the actress who portrays her. No wonder Mr. Ballard named a rose after her.
The flower competition takes place despite the war. It’s really refreshing to see everyone in town gather together for a celebration. It reminds us that despite the circumstances, the show must go on. In tragic times, we rely on simple things like flower festivals to keep us going. Both Mrs. Miniver the woman and Mrs. Miniver the rose bring light to the darkness by reminding people that there is still good in the world.
As opposed to other movies that aim to portray the adverse effects of war, Mrs. Miniver focuses on the impact on regular civilians instead of soldiers on the battlefield. When we’re far away from war, we often forget that it’s not just about a bunch of men fighting each other; it’s also about the innocent people who unwillingly find themselves in the middle of the calamity. In other words, war affects everyone and everything. The director understood that it’s easier to get us to sympathize if he can get us to realize that the victims in the film could easily be us.
At the end of the movie, a vicar delivers a sermon in a bombed church about the tragedies of war and the death of regular civilians. Here is a segment of it:
“The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There is scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart.
And why? Surely you must have asked yourself this question. Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? [SENTENCE REMOVED FOR SPOILERS] Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed?
I shall tell you why.
Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is a 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!”
We often ask ourselves why certain things happen to certain people. We are lucky that we are not the ones getting killed and getting our homes bombed, but this movie makes us realize that it could happen to anyone, so it’s crucial that we help in any way we can. President Roosevelt actually requested that this speech be broadcast in other American outlets and air-dropped over German-occupied territory.
So there you have it. Mrs. Miniver is a movie that did not solely win for its cinematic merit, but for its political influence too. Whether you agree with its message or not, there is no denying that it was a bold and powerful move considering its historical context.