20 April 2007 | jandesimpson
A very personal experience
When a film touches one's own reality it becomes something rather special. For this reason I have long held a deep affection for Wyler's saga of an English family on the home front from the immediate pre-second world period to the darkest days of the blitz. It has become very fashionable to sneer at "Mrs Miniver" as sentimental propaganda long after the events it depicted. Was it really like that? Well - yes and no. The whole was very cleverly orchestrated by a team of four scriptwriters (including James Hilton), Hollywood's most accomplished director (William Wyler), MGM's able in-house composer (Herbert Stothart), one of their best cameramen (Joseph Ruttenburg) and a cast, when not verging on the caricature, giving the nearest semblance to the emotions I can remember living through as a child during those dark days. No one sneered at the time and the film gathered a well deserved collection of Oscars. It was only afterwards that doubts set in and reactions from a new generation became derisory. Looking at it today there are many things that are not quite right but they tend to be minor such as the risibly awful choir at the garden party, the maid snivelling to the point of embarrassment, the phoney look of American style fencing around those English gardens and the endless digs at class which, although part and parcel of how things were, were never quite so overstated. Where the work really comes into its own is in its portrayal of human emotions which was always Wyler's trump card. A film that attempts to enshrine that spirit of togetherness that comes to the fore in times of adversity and the fight against a common evil needed a director able to convey with an almost tactile sense of human passion. William Wyler, who during his great period from "Jezebel" in 1938 to "Carrie" in 1952 depicted the human heart with an intensity that has hardly ever been seen before or since, invested his depiction of the British wartime home front with a sincerity that almost completely deflects the arrows of criticism it has so often received. Ask again if it was really like that and I would cite the air-raid shelter scene some two-thirds of the way through as being in every sense definitive. My mother protected me in just such a way during air-raids in South London during the 1940 blitz as do the Miniver parents their children. I remember the crescendo of destructive sounds as depicted in the film as if only yesterday.