The Second World War is one of the most horrific catastrophic events to take place in the history of mankind. During this terrifying vicissitude that commenced in 1939 and continued on until 1945, millions of people worldwide lost their loved ones either from fighting for the country and being killed in action or just being bombed while walking along the street.
At the inauguration, America had still not entered the cataclysm that was taking place, and for a while the country was in favor of isolationism, but once the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941 went down as a date in infamy, the United States started their battle and went full swing into the war.
World War II was not a memorable time for anyone. Not only did it affect the nation, it swayed Hollywood and the entertainment industry to undergo changes to help support the war effort. During this time a plethora of notable stars travelled the country to raise money by selling War Bonds while others aided the cause by assisting with the Hollywood Canteen that was founded by Bette Davis and John Garfield in 1942.
Among the myriad of adjustments made by the motion picture studios were the subject matters of the films. Since the world was at war people wanted to see productions that offered an ounce of realism instead of escapist vehicles dominated by idealists that were largely popular during the Great Depression.
Once the pictures were realistic, the stories about war proliferated Hollywood, and with this new theme came the birth of one of Hollywood’s most renowned families in a prominent film that garnered six Academy Awards. The title of that production as known the world over is Mrs. Miniver, a masterful depiction of a mother and the sacrifices she made for her family during the darkest days of England.
Preparation for the film all began in the Autumn of 1940. At the time the USA was still impartial, but with the unfolding of each month and the long wait with the script writing, the country was slowly approaching the war, which caused delays as the scenes had to be rewritten to reflect the increasingly pro-British and anti-German outlook of Americans.
For a while the filming process was going steady, but once Pearl Harbour was attacked in December 1941, the United States were completely involved in the war, resulting in the production to undergo a transformation.
During filming, Greer Garson fell in love with Richard Ney, who played the role of her son Vin in the movie. The following year Garson married Ney, but shortly after eloping they ensued several altercations which led to a divorce in 1947.
Mrs. Miniver is the second of a string of wartime films produced by Sidney Franklin. After receiving considerable results for Waterloo Bridge, Franklin was immediately captivated by the quaintness and charm that the vehicle spotlighted and continued to augment this fine aspect in an array of war extravaganzas and homecoming films.
The film was based on the 1939 book from a series of newspaper columns of the same name, and was adapted to the screen by Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel and James Hilton. Director William Wyler was among the six recipients of the Academy Award for his directorial efforts in the production.
Mrs. Miniver is also significant for it’s distinctive cast. Headlining the production is Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon who commenced their nine film collaboration the previous year when they starred in Blossoms In The Dust. Apart from the two lead roles the film gathers an assembled cast of supporting players who all hail from the pantheon of respectable character actors. Some of these names include, Teresa Wright, Dame May Witty and Henry Travers.
Prologue: This story of an average English middle-class family begins with the summer of 1939; when the sun shone down on a happy, careless people, who worked and played, reared their children and tended their gardens in that happy, easy-going England that was so soon to be fighting desperately for her way of life and for life itself.
The plot centres around the Miniver household, a middle class family residing in England. Beginning in 1939 when Britain was still a congenial country that consisted of amiable citizens, the story chronicles the journey of Kay Miniver ( Greer Garson ) the devoted wife of Clem Miniver ( Walter Pidgeon ) and the adversity and heartbreak she endured while trying to save her children from explosive bombs when the United Kingdom were fighting heavily at war.
The main premise of Mrs. Miniver is the war and how the family struggled to survive while their country was amid the first few months of the Blitz, but while the film is mainly labelled as a wartime extravaganza, it also delves into the facets of romance and competition with the Miniver’s eldest son Vin abiding a blossoming love affair with Carol Beldon, played by Teresa Wright, and eloping during the prime of the war. Before all this, Kay faces antagonism by Lady Beldon ( Dame May Witty ) when a rose named after her is entered into the flower show where Lady Beldon is never accustomed to ranking second place.
All of these elements are perfectly executed into the film. Even though the love affair between Vin and Carol are easily evident, none of these scenes are too lustrous in the way that the romance takes over the wartime propaganda. Instead the components are effectively blended into the picture by being realistic in the sense that Carol suspects that Vin will likely be killed in action, and since this possibility is high, Carol manages to retain happiness even if it’s only for a short while. Sadly the tables are turned and it’s Carol who gives her life for the country.
Mrs. Miniver is also a film that highlights courage and bravery. With the country being flooded by bombs and civilians fighting in the frontline, it’s the innate fortitude of the people that become the pillar of strength for the nation.
One of the reasons why Mrs. Miniver stands on a higher pedestal compared to the other war films of the day is the fact that it features a stellar cast. Greer Garson had an exalted status during World War II, and her portrayal of Kay Miniver proved why. Garson’s character of Kay was the epitome of heroism. Instead of displaying a fearful persona, Kay inhabited a unique valour that not only made her sparkle with compassion, but turned her into an inspirational figure. In the film we witness her emotional conflict as she encounters a German flier in her home. Then we observe her warmth and indomitability as she protects her children from exploding bombs in an Anderson shelter on a bomb filled night. All this and more result in the sight of a heartbroken Kay nursing the body of Carol, who has just died from wounds, but no matter how much disaster she endures, Mrs. Miniver remains determined throughout the whole ordeal. By watching Greer Garson’s laudable performance we can easily see why she attained the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Accompanying Kay Miniver through love and war is her husband, Clem Miniver, played by Walter Pidgeon. Along with his masculine stamina and resilience, Clem is a great addition to Kay and her boldness. To add to all this is the undeniable chemistry between Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon that is clearly evident all throughout the picture.
Apart from the invigorating presence of the two leads, the film boasts memorable performances from it’s exceptional supporting cast which include, Teresa Wright, Dame May Witty, Henry Travers among others.
Mrs. Miniver is a cinematic masterpiece that contains William Wyler’s skilful efforts as director. Abounding this is the immaculate cinematography that is enhanced by the rich and vibrant ambience.
From the astute script, the crisp dialogue to the courageous spirits that govern the main foundation, Mrs. Miniver is a perennial motion picture treasure that will continue to enchant millions worldwide for decades.
Winston Churchill stated that this film had done more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers.
Mrs. Miniver was the first movie to receive five acting nominations at the Academy Awards.
Greer Garson’s Best Actress acceptance speech lasted an incredible 5 1/2 minutes, making it a Hollywood record.
William Wyler openly admitted that he made the film for propaganda reasons. Wyler – who was born in Germany – strongly believed that the US should join the war against Nazism, and was concerned that America’s policy of isolationism would prove damaging, so he made a film that showed ordinary Americans what their British equivalents were undergoing at the time. The film’s subsequent success had a profound effect on American sympathy towards the plight of the British.
Kay Miniver: “But in war, time is so precious to the young people.”
Kay Miniver: “Did you know that the 12th Lord Beldon was hanged?”
Lady Beldon: “He was beheaded! Such things happen in the best families. In fact, usually in the best families.”
Clem Miniver: “She was a good cook, as good cooks go. And as good cooks go, she went.”
Vicar: “We, in this quiet corner of England, have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us – some close to this church: George West, choir boy; James Bellard, station master and bell ringer and a proud winner, only one hour before his death, of the Belding Cup for his beautiful Miniver rose; and our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. 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! Well, 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.”
Greer Garson: Born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson on September 29th, 1904 in Manor Park, London. Died: April 6th, 1996 in Dallas, Texas. Aged: 91.
Walter Pidgeon: Born Walter Davis Pidgeon on September 23rd, 1897 in Sain John, New Brunswick, Canada. Died: September 25th, 1984 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 87.