Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs. Miniver (1942), directed by William Wyler.

The middle class family looks very comfortable to our eyes and we have a half hour filled with the pleasant, trivial decencies of peacetime. These actually continue during the war with dances and courtship and a fiercely contested flower show. We don't see much in the way of rationing or domestic hardship for a while.

The war must intrude. The husband takes his boat to Dunkirk as part of the rescue flotilla, the same day the wife must contend with a desperate downed German flier. They suffer through intense air raids, damage to the house and death of a family member.

It ends with a church service, a rousing call to Christian patriotism, to join in the "people's war". They sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" and we go out on Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" (use of which he hated in WW1).

A British home-front story made in America when the US was just getting into the war. It is instructive to compare this with Wyler's own The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) made just four years later. It was a long war, wearing down the cheerful carry-on optimism of the beginning.

Teresa Wright is in both! This was her second film.

The movie won a boat-load of Oscars. Greer Garson received best actress, which she would have won for Random Harvest (1942) had she been nominated which she wasn't because you can't be nominated for the same award twice in the same year.

I admire Wyler but I think Hawks or Capra could have done a livelier treatment of the same material, just as patriotic.

Helmut Dantine (Casablanca (1942), Edge of Darkness (1943), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)) plays the German flier, a villain who is also wounded and starving, his first credited role. Note the tiny bit of business: Mrs Miniver has his Luger and moves it behind her out of sight and reach as the police take him out, giving it to the last officer. Dantine was an anti-nazi activist and spent time in a concentration camp, so of course he got to play German baddies in the 1940s.

Photographed by Joseph Ruttenberg. Music by Herbert Stothart, where the main theme is adapted from the hymn "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past". I remember Gene Wolfe's quote in The Shadow of the Torturer: "A thousand ages in Thy sight / Are like an evening gone / Short as the watch that ends the night / Before the rising sun".

Available on Blu-ray.