Wednesday, April 30, 2014
(June 1942, U.S.)
While I can't claim to have seen that many war dramas (not to be confused with combat war films), the ones I have seen and loved, such as BATTLE CRY (1955) and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), tend to focus more on the drama taking place between those associated with the military (and their wives), and therefore, more directly linked to the inside events and politics of war and battle. A film like MRS. MINIVER shows how the life of an unassuming British housewife in rural England is touched by the events of World War II. Played by Greer Garson, Mrs. Kay Miniver is a simple and lovely English lady who seems to take great pleasure in some of life's simplest things. When we first meet her, she overcome with joy over the fact that the hat she admired so much in the store window was not sold. It's an extravagance in her life, but one she feels she owes to herself once in a while to keep her joy blooming. Life in England is comfortable for herself, her husband (played by American actor Walter Pigeon) and their three children.
As the threat of World War II looms somewhere in the distance, her oldest son Vin (played by Richard Ney) comes down from Oxford University and meets Carol Beldon (played by the beautiful Teresa Wright), granddaughter of wealthy and rather snotty Lady Beldon (played Dame May Whitty). Despite their initial disagreements which mainly focus on the contrasts between Vin's idealistic attitude to class differences with Carol's practical altruism, they manage to fall in love and get married, nonetheless (because that's what happens in the movies!). As the war comes closer to home, Vin feels he must do his part for King and country and enlists in the Royal Air Force, qualifying as a fighter pilot. By sheer circumstance he's posted to a base near to his parents' home and is able to signal his safe return from operations to his parents by cutting his engines briefly as he flies over the house. I point out this small piece of interest because it further serves the tools of life's moments that continue to bring a woman like Mrs. Miniver joy and security of knowing her son is safe during a time of war when life is anything but safe.
Despite all her attempts to practice the normal functions of everyday life during a time of war, Mrs. Miniver inevitably learns the harsh truth of what it means to (literally) have the enemy at your door when she discovers a wounded German soldier who intrudes into her home and demands food while keeping his gun pointed at her. Study Mrs. Miniver's face carefully during this sequence and it's impossible not to realize that while she's a woman filled with fear, she also can't help but feel empathy for a young soldier who's, perhaps, no older than her own son and requires medical attention. Even when she manages to take his gun from him and call the police, she still remembers her humanity and calls for a doctor. Are we meant to connect with a woman who would give aid to the man that history has taught us was the enemy of the world? That would depend on our own humanity. The life of Mrs. Miniver is meant to be one of simplicity and humanity, regardless of war and personal threat to herself and her family.
Keeping in mind that the film's purpose is to express the life of the ordinary individual during war, the inevitable tragedy is not presented in the death of the brave soldier (as most typical war films would do) bur rather in the death of the innocent girl Carol who succumbs to her wounds after being shot by an enemy plane flying over her car. It's Mrs. Miniver who clutches her dying body in the end and it's her who sheds the first tear for the tragic death of this simple and beautiful girl who's only previous true acknowledgment of the war was facing the fact that she could loose her soldier husband to war at any given time. It's ironic that, perhaps, her own death never occurred to her or anyone else. War is hell for those who fight it and for those innocent people who must suffer though it. And while I'm sure MRS. MINIVER is not the only war drama to address the plights of the ordinary folk during wartime, it's, by far, the most effective example I can recommend for those who wish to explore that sort of tale.
MRS. MINIVER won the Oscar for best picture of 1942.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kay Miniver: "But in war, time is so precious to the young people."