OK, yes, the title sounds more like an episode of Downton Abbey than a war movie, but trust me, it’s a good one.
And there aren’t exactly bloody battles of combat in this war movie, but there is a flower competition that gets a LITTLE tense. (Alright, there are actually several moments of legitimate danger that are really good.)
But the strength of Mrs. Miniver is how it nails what must have felt as indescribable emotions experienced by the British people as the Allied forces struggled to fight off the terror of the Nazi regime.
It was directed by a fellow named William Wyler, who felt strongly that the United States should step up and fight alongside the Allies. (He was born in Germany, by the way.) Most Americans didn’t want to get involved at the time, but this film really contributed to the shift of that public opinion by showing Americans what their average, unassuming counterparts in England were going through.
Mrs. Miniver won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Greer Garson. (And just to clarify, the name of the award is indeed “Best Actress” not “Best Actress for Greer Garson” although I’ve been petitioning the Academy for quite some time to make that change.)
Greer Garson, apart from having a name that sounds like an unsightly sneeze, was one of the great actresses of our time. (And when I say “our time” I mean “my time” since I was mistakenly born 50-60 years too late.) You may remember her from the classic film Random Harvest, which came out the same year.
Garson was supported by a great cast that includes Teresa Wright (Pride of the Yankees), Walter Pidgeon (How Green Was My Valley…“I don’t know, how green was it?”), Henry Travers (It’s a Wonderful Life), Dame May Whitty (Gaslight), Reginald Owen (A Christmas Carol), Henry Wilcoxon (The Ten Commandments), and Richard Ney, whom I’m sure everyone remembers from 1952’s not-even-remotely-close-to-a-blockbuster Babes in Bagdad: The Shapes that Shook a Harem Empire. (Have I ever seen that film, you ask? Ney.)
OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: Greer Garson actually ended up marrying Ney, who plays her son, after this film. Don’t think about that while you’re watching it, though, or you’ll start to feel real uncomfortable real quick.
The night before the conclusion of this film was shot, William Wyler was convinced the vicar’s sermon (which is core to the final scene) wasn’t right. Wyler called upon the actor playing the vicar, Henry Wilcoxon, to help him improve what the screenwriter’s had originally written.
The outcome of this last-minute revision was powerful—so powerful, in fact, the speech was printed in magazines across America. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even ordered that it be broadcast on the Voice of America (the official external broadcast institution of the U.S. government) and distributed all over America and Europe to boost morale.
Even Winston Churchill reportedly said that this movie did more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers. (I’m not sure what a “flotilla” is, but if it’s like a tortilla then I’d love to hear more.)
Here is the speech that invigorated the Allied forces:
We, in this quiet corner of England, have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us…The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There is scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourself this question. Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness. Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed?
I shall tell you why: because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is a war of the people, of all the people, and it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home, and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom!
We have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves and those who come after us from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the people’s war! It is our war! We are the fighters! Fight it then! Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the right.
And as another character said to Mrs. Miniver, “We mustn’t waste time in fear.” We cannot allow our minds to dwell on the fears that the devil and his evil influences try to plant there. We must elevate our perspective to the eternal, recognizing what is right, and believing God will grant us the power to defeat what is wrong.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” — 2 Timothy 1:7