Not since viewing the finale to the soon-to-be-shuttered Palm Springs Follies (cross-reference below), has such a blatant piece of jingoistic propaganda been described in these pages.
Given world events, it’s no surprise at all that Mrs Miniver captured the 1942 Best Picture award and was also that year’s box-office smash.
In many ways, William Wyler’s ode to the spunk and spirit of the small, English town of Belham, is more about the younger Mrs. Miniver (ideally portrayed by Teresa Wright) than the matriarch of the Starling estate (Greer Garson’s best moment comes via palpable terror flooding her eyes during a deadly drive through a bombardment from the Jerries). The third Mrs. Miniver comes in the alluring form of a new breed of rose, lovingly developed by the town’s stationmaster and sometime bell ringer, James Ballard (rendered with quiet humility by Henry Travers), which serves the twin purposes of allowing the setup of an early saccharine line (“There will always be roses in England”) and the poor man’s dramatic confrontation with the town’s curmudgeonly aristocrat, Lady Belton—none other than Dame May Whitty leads the charge of the privileged: “I don’t take orders, I give them!”
Rounding out the principals are pipe smoking patriarch (hilariously with the bowl upside down during an outdoor excursion in the era of blackouts) Clem Miniver (a decidedly vanilla performance from Walter Pidgeon) and his socialist-leaning, Oxford-educated son, Vincent (Richard Ney is the epitome of wide-eyed innocence even as he rushes through his pilot training so as to get to the killing fields as soon as possible).
With all of the carnage and mayhem that was the daily news in the early ‘40s, it is positively unbelievable that the film’s married couples were saddled with twin beds courtesy of the censors. How were children ever conceived? (Oh, I forgot: It was the stork!). It was also very helpful that the sole German enemy seen in the back-story-rich production spoke very good English and was injured just enough to allow the woman of the largely chauvinistic household to turn over a prisoner-of-war to the authorities.
With the annual flower competition safely behind, the final scenes are ready for a literal message from the pulpit that paid off many of the earlier plot points in spades. Bellowing at the congregation in a tone that would wake the dead (and stoically conducting the service in a bombed-out sanctuary), the vicar (Henry Wilcoxon) eagerly rose to the occasion, explaining to everyone (and especially war-weary moviegoers) that WW II was “a war of the people…for those who love freedom” (and, accordingly, the innocent and elderly must also die to prove just how universal the battle was). What could possibly follow but the noble strains of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” a touch of “Pomp and Circumstance” and an up-tilt sky shot where the church’s ripped apart roof magnificently framed the—by now—inevitable flyby of the Royal Air Force on their way to slaughter a few more innocent and elderly of their own.
Viewers were then (and now in the DVD release) met with an on-screen appeal to do their duty and march out of the cinema and purchase war bonds. Yes, there’s nothing like a movie to take one’s mind off of the trial and tribulations of living in a world led by bullies of all stripes—all of them believing that they are in the right and having no qualms about sacrificing their citizenry to prove it. JWR