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USA 1942
Directed by
William Wyler
134 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Mrs. Miniver

This war-time propaganda film won the 1942 Oscar for Best Picture and Oscars for Greer Garson in the title role (her fifth consecutive nomination) and Teresa Wright as well as for its director, William Wyler (Walter Pidgeon was pipped by James Cagney for Yankee Doodle Dandy whilst Henry Travers who played the rose-growing Mr Ballard was passed over for Best Supporting Actor. Richard Ney simply wasn't up to snuff although he and Garson married subsequently). Looking at the film today, it lumbers under the weight of its heavy-handed sentimentalism and it is clear that its critical and commercial success derived from a tidal wave of patriotic fervor, America having just entered the war rather than any intrinsic merits..

The film opens with Garson’s Mrs Miniver on a shopping spree wittering over some expensive hat  and truly awful hat (it had what looked like a stuffed bird on it) which she simply must have and heading back to her white-picketed home and her pipe-smoking cardigan-wearing architect husband, Clem (Pidgeon), who has just bought himself an expensive raodster. They chafe each other playfully over their extravagances before retiring to their single adjoining beds with Clem’s pyjama buttoned up to the neck just so we don’t get the idea that they might get up to anything more robust. But then the war arrives (very quickly it seems) to disrupt their domestic idyll.  Their eldest son, Vin (Ney), enlists in the R.A.F but not before marrying Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright) the sweet niece of haughty but good-hearted Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty).

Whilst the German anti-Nazi emigré Wyler’s motives in ladling on the treacle are understandable, take the context away and the results don’t sustain. Garson was English-born,as was Dame May Whitty, but Pidgeon, Wright and Ney were Americans. But more importantly, despite fetishizing English manners, the settings look nothing like England and were clearly shot on studio lots made by people who had never seen Home County England. Had Powell and Pressburger or David Lean made this film at least it would have achieved a convincing atmosphere but as the settings are wrong everything else looks bogus – Vin’s Oxford education and spiffy R.A.F. uniform, Mrs. Miniver’s noble capture of a German airman in her kitchen, Clem’s valiant trip to Dunkirk and back, the battle at the annual fair for the best rose and so on.  It’s ghastily ersatz stuff that only serves to make one wish for the real thing.

FYI: There was a 1950 sequel, The Miniver Story (unseen), with Garson and Pidgeon reprising their roles but with far less success.

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