21 November 2007 | bkoganbing
The People's War
With the help of the extensive British colony in Hollywood, William Wyler directed at MGM the best World War II propaganda film to come out of our film industry. Mrs. Miniver won a host of Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress for Greer Garson, Best Supporting Actress for Teresa Wright, Best Director for William Wyler, all deserved.
Forget all the war pictures, this film about the trials of a British family just before and during World War II struck a poignant note with the American public. Showing how they were coping with the attacks on their civilian population made every American family identify with the Minivers. If they fail in their resolution to defend their blessed isle, we in America could be facing these same trials and depredations.
Like the people in The Diary of Anne Frank, the Minivers are such ordinary folks, caught up in a thing that was not of their making. The film opens with Greer Garson coming home after a shopping trip to London deciding how to tell her husband Walter Pidgeon about a new hat. On the way home, the stationmaster Henry Travers asks Garson permission to name a rose he's been cultivating for the flower show the Miniver Rose. Pidgeon's splurged on a new car and he's trying to figure out how to tell Garson.
The war comes and the Minivers and all their neighbors in their small country town have to deal with rationing and shortages and then the blitz as the ruling malignancy in Germany seeks to terrorize the British people into submission. As London took it as their Prime Minister said it would, so to do the small villages and hamlets, especially if they're located next to an RAF base.
Which is where their oldest boy, Richard Ney, is now stationed after having left Oxford. He's involved too, with a radiantly beautiful Teresa Wright as the granddaughter of the local grande dame, Dame May Witty.
Wright is involved in two of my favorite scenes. When she first meets the pretentious Ney and gently but firmly puts him down, who could help but fall for this girl. And her final scene with Greer Garson is what I'm convinced got them both Oscars. You have to see it, I can't say more and the hardest of hearts will be moved.
Pidgeon's moment comes when he's called away because he owns a small boat, a cabin cruiser we'd call it and ordered to take it to Ramsbottom. It's the beginning of the greatest citizen mobilization of the last century, the evacuation of the British Army from the beach at Dunkirk. He and thousands like him are told what the mission is and they could expect to be under fire at that beach and crossing 40 miles of English Channel. No one flinches and a very nice animated scene at night is showing all of these small crafts filling up the river on a date with history.
Garson also comes face to face with Nazism herself as she first is held captive and then turns the tables on a wounded Nazi flier who bailed out played by Helmut Dantine. Don't think all the women in America didn't think about coming face to face with evil right in their kitchens.
Both Walter Pidgeon for Best Actor and Henry Travers for Best Supporting Actor got nominations themselves, but lost to James Cagney and Van Heflin respectively. In addition Dame May Witty was also up for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to her fellow cast member Teresa Wright.
The valedictory for the film is delivered by Vicar Henry Wilcoxon after a bad raid in which several cast members are killed. With so much death and destruction waged on them at home, it has become the people's war, more a people's war than it was even in the United States with so many civilian casualties. We got a taste of it at Pearl Harbor and a much bigger taste on 9/11 in New York, Northern Virginia, and on the Pennsylvania countryside. The words of Henry Wilcoxon should be standard reading or viewing. It's what makes Mrs. Miniver such a timeless classic as we deal with another brand of totalitarian malignancy in this century.