Mrs. Miniver

Mrs. Miniver

This is the people’s war. It is our war.

Of all the well-regarded films on the list, there are plenty more that aren’t in the Book. For me, the most well-regarded film of Hollywood’s Golden Age that wasn’t in the Book was 1942’s Best Picture winner, Mrs. Miniver. Well, the new edition saw fit to add that film to the mix, meaning my title of Most Well-Regarded Film Not on the List must pass to another (probably 1944’s Going My Way). Mrs. Miniver is another William Wyler picture, and for me, if any director can best typify the Golden Age of American filmmaking, William Wyler’s name is certainly in the running. It seemed natural, then, for him to helm what Hollywood would try and push as the quintessential World War II film, even despite the fact that it is set in Great Britain.

Greer Garson is the titular Mrs. Miniver, a wife to her strapping husband (played by Walter Pidgeon) and mother to their two young children, with an additional older son Vincent who is out on his own. The film starts with the characters in free spirits; Mrs. Miniver and her husband each buying an extravagant gift and trying to break the news to their partner, Vin returning home from Oxford and meeting young Carol Beldon (with whom he initially has a disagreement with), and a shopowner who breeds roses on the side producing a particularly lovely specimen, which he decides to enter into a competition and which he names after Mrs. Miniver. Then, during a church sermon, the news breaks that England has entered the war against Germany, and from there on the film details the Minivers’ struggles as the war begins to encroach upon British territory. What bugged me most about Mrs. Miniver was how rudimentary the whole film seemed to be. Films today, especially blockbusters, are often accused of ‘Save the Cat syndrome’, where the films follow a precise beat-by-beat, moment-by-moment system introduced in the eponymous book, but if an equivalent of Save the Cat syndrome existed in the 1940s, Mrs. Miniver would undoubtedly be called out on it. It is so perfect in its structure that it is no wonder it won the bunch of Oscars it did, and by perfect, I don’t mean so excellent that it is flawless; I mean that it takes absolutely no risks whatsoever, and thus never puts itself out there enough to chance a flaw appearing. I know this is supposed to be a propaganda piece, but for it to so precisely follow the formula for a Hollywood film (that just so happens to be a propaganda piece) was a little unnerving, and even less welcome. That said, it is still a well done picture, but for me, that assessment still manages to have a gigantic asterisk that is too hard to ignore. Greer Garson was headstrong and hearty in her role, and it definitely seemed the type to win an Oscar for, though I wasn’t convinced her cinematic partner Walter Pidgeon had done enough to warrant even his Best Actor nomination, but then again it seems that the Academy had been all but sold on nominating this for as many Oscars as it was qualified for. Also, the film had far too cavalier an attitude about war for my tastes. Maybe I’m just used to harsh brutalities portrayed in films like Idi i Smotri, but this was far too “aw shucks” and “such a pity” and “woe is us” about war; there’s even a scene with the Minivers outside their bomb shelter where they look at London being bombed and wistfully (if sarcastically) muse about how lovely the bombing looks in the evening light. Sure, this was followed by a rather violent scene where the Miniver family’s own property is besieged by air drops, but I could tell just from the way the film presented it that it wasn’t intended to highlight the atrocities of war, but provide yet another avenue of pathos via propaganda, which the film indulged a little too much in.

The film did have a couple of twists in the plot that served as mild surprises, especially when I figured the film up to those points had been entirely predictable and expected. Still, it was far too cheery about the war than it had a right to be, even during the end sequences, which were far more sad and remorseful than the rest of the film; I still couldn’t help but feel that it should have been even more so, but it didn’t want to risk it, since it wasn’t expected of a Hollywood film. It was good, but nothing about it even signaled that there was a chance that it wouldn’t be. I expected it to be exactly what it is, and thus I ended up rather miffed at the redundancy of having my expectations end up as precisely the reality. Joseph Goebbels himself regarded this film as an excellent example of successful propaganda, mainly because it was subtle about it rather than being in-your-face jingoistic. For me, this wasn’t as subtle as it thought itself to be, and in my opinion, Hollywood had done and will do more successful propaganda than this film.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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