During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
It struck me while watching “Mrs. Miniver” that the film was incredibly current for its time. It is rare to watch a movie about an event that is ongoing and rarer still that event be as important as World War II. 1942’s film “Mrs. Miniver” follows the Miniver family living outside of London, England, at the outset of the war, the Blitz, and directly references the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. Despite its focus on the English in World War II, “Mrs. Miniver” was an American movie rushed to theaters by President Roosevelt as a propaganda film to stir up more Americans to support fighting the Germans.
It was also one of the most boring movies I have watched. As stirring as its speeches and as important as its history, “Mrs. Miniver” spends too much time on romance and on the idyllic lives of the pre-war English middle class and aristocracy. In a way, it reminds me of “Gone with the Wind” only less exciting.
It is a shame too because the movie is well-acted. Mrs. Miniver is played by Greer Garson, who’s soft eyes look straight through the heart of everyone she meets. Later scenes in the movie, after her initial introduction as a vapid consumer housewife, bring home the tragedy of war even if the movie takes too long getting to them.
The rest of the cast is also very good. I especially liked Walter Pidgeon as the husband of Mrs. Miniver, Clem Miniver. He has a kind of old sitcom dad vibe to him throughout the film, despite there being no laugh track and even less to laugh about. An early scene where he and his wife have dinner and slowly work up the courage to admit to one another what they wasted money on that day felt like a scene from “I Love Lucy”.
Other than the children who were terrible by default, I initially hated their son and the film’s romantic lead, Vin Miniver, played by Richard Ney. Vin is initially introduced as an Oxford student who cannot stop talking about the troubles of classes in English society. I found it very humorous how he wanted to stand up for the middle class against British aristocracy when his parents lived in a house large enough to have its own name. Blue blood or not, he hardly suffered either.
His character did grow on me and if the film hadn’t dawdled so much I might’ve cared for his romance with Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the granddaughter of the well-to-do Lady Beldon. I did appreciate that she called Vin out on his bullshit when they first met since all he was was a “talker” and she at least did something with her time when she wasn’t busy being rich.
Carol Beldon’s grandmother, Lady Beldon, is played by Dame May Whitty and she owns all of her scenes. As classist as she can be, Lady Beldon is one of the few comedic elements in the movie, which was much appreciated given the rest of the subject matter even if she was a total bitch about most things. Her character arc revolves almost entirely around a flower competition which her family host, pays for, and that she always wins. It is all rather tripe.
The absolute best scene in the entire film takes place at its very end. Gathering in a bombed out church, there are gaps in the seating where lost loved ones once sat. The pastor’s sermon is rousing. The story goes that it was written over and over again up until the day it was shot. It was so important, that President Roosevelt cribbed it in his own speeches regarding the war effort. If the war hadn’t already been won, then I might’ve jumped out of my comfy living room and gone off to fight for freedom myself.
Regardless of all these qualities, Diane and I both spent most of the film wondering when it would lead to anything. When we realized it was a World War II movie, we got interested despite the movie maintaining its glacial pacing. “Mrs. Miniver” feels long and is long. It takes too much time to get where it needs to be for the story to begin and everytime you think it is over, it isn’t. We very much appreciated the historic value of this film, but we will never watch it again.