Continuing my film course’s exploration of films about the Second World War before, during and after the event, William Wyler’s Mrs Miniver is a 1942 production that, intriguingly, is set in a rural, idyllic English village but was in fact made in the US, in Hollywood studios and backlots. It features Americans playing English characters and an Irish actor (Greer Garson) as the titular English rose, so understandably several aspects of the film do not ring true; accents are transatlantic, and just look at the size of the interior of The Minivers’ house, for example, which looks American in terms of the decor and style, and doesn’t correspond at all with the smaller dwelling used for exterior shots. British audiences caught up in the war didn’t care all that much at the time of release, apparently, and simply fell for it’s ‘there’ll-always-be-an-England’ church bell charm – in fact there’s an intriguing BBC article out there that suggests this was the propaganda piece that Hitler feared the most, given its popularity; it received an extra push by bagging six Oscars…all biggies, with nominations in many other categories, too.
During the second act a singular, unreasonable, comically-evil German soldier invades the village, seemingly ‘poisoning’ Mrs Miniver’s garden by his mere presence, but as well as demonising the enemy it served to reinforce the message that the war began at home, and to make sure citizens were constantly keeping their eyes and ears open. The film’s treatment of Dunkirk is deliberately simple, given that concrete details would have sapped the nation’s morale at the time, and also anything realistic or informative would have been costly/impossible to stage and could have provided the enemy with valuable information on real-life survival rates, etc. Wyler and his screenwriters constantly try to reinforce a positive, upbeat message, though intriguingly the final act is very dark, and there’s tragic loss amidst the frivolity and defiance. (***½)