Starring-Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon
Scott’s Review #841
Reviewed December 13, 2018
Released in 1942 amid the horrific World War II, Mrs. Miniver (1942) was a smash hit, winning over audiences concerned with the troubled and uncertain times. Decades later the film does not age as well as other similarly themed films, but still entertains and tells a good story with an important theme. The film is nestled in the war drama genre with a bit of romance thrown in. The film won numerous Oscars the year of its release including Best Picture and star Greer Garson winning for Best Actress.
The story is told from the perspective of an affluent British family and the struggles they face to keep things together during growing peril. The focus mostly remains squarely on an unassuming housewife, Kay Miniver (Garson). The supporting players do much to flesh out the film with wonderful performances by Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, and Henry Travers as Clem Miniver, Carol Beldon, and Mr. Ballard, respectively. The direction by William Wyler is astounding and adds to the perfectly crafted ambiance and homey details.
The family lives a comfortable life in a whimsical village outside of London. Quite idealized, they own a large garden and a motorboat on the river Thames. Along with Kay and Clem, their three children of varying ages and their housekeeper and cook reside with them. Besides the parents, the central couple is son Vin (Richard Ney) and the prominent Carol (Wright), the pair initially disagreeing on politics, but finally falling madly in love. As the soap-opera-style family situations continue to occur the war grows closer and closer to their house.
As Mrs. Miniver progresses, Vin enlists in the army to assist with war efforts, a German Nazi breaks into the Miniver house, a central character dies, and bombs and planes crash. Through it all, Kay remains stoic and takes the family through challenging situations adding much melodrama to the film. The woman’s journey and resolve to keep everything and everyone intact is the core of the film.
The film is mainly a family drama with both the Miniver’s and the townspeople experiencing trials and tribulations. In this way, Mrs. Miniver risks being a one-trick pony, albeit an emotional and teary-eyed one. The rich characteristics and the polished nature make the film more than it ought to be and the superlative cast and production values as well as the timeliness of the film’s release undoubtedly made it what it was in 1942.
In present times, however, Mrs. Miniver seems diminished in importance and relevance with a sappy and overly sentimental feel, World War II in the distant past, and several other wars come and gone. Apparent is that Wyler carefully packaged the film to hit every emotion from the bombastic musical score to the proper English characters, to the comic relief housekeeper. The film is a giant Hollywood production, but perhaps a bit too perfect to age with any zest or reason to watch more than once?
The film might be better remembered for its strong female lead. Told from Kay’s perspective, unusual in 1942 for a film (especially with a war theme) not to have the story from the male point of view. Still refreshing in 2018, this quality was downright groundbreaking at the time. Kay stays strong and proud through the ravages of war that are closing in on her family with unbridled boldness and nary a simpering quality. An early champion for strong, female-driven characters and in a smaller way, Wright’s Carol is also a muscled female role model.
Mrs. Miniver (1942) is a well-crafted film of its time that displays lavish production values and strong characters worthy of admiration. For a glimpse back into the 1940’s time-capsule, especially for those fans of good, solid drama, the film is a major win. There are no major flaws to harp on, but the overall piece has not aged especially well and other similar films (Casablanca, 1942) are more memorable affairs.
Oscar Nominations: Outstanding Motion Picture (won), Best Director-William Wyler (won), Best Actor-Walter Pidgeon, Best Actress-Greer Garson (won), Best Supporting Actor-Henry Travers, Best Supporting Actress-Teresa Wright (won), Dame May Whitty, Best Screenplay (won), Best Sound Recording, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (won), Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects