Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1942. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West, based on the book by Jan Struther. Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. Produced by Sidney Franklin, William Wyler. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Robert Kalloch. Film Editing by Harold F. Kress. Academy Awards 1942.
This beautiful World War II morale booster is shameless in its sentimentality, its claiming to be about an “average” English family (who have a maid and a housekeeper) is ridiculous no matter how forgiving you feel, and yet thanks to William Wyler’s intelligent direction, it is pitched at the perfect emotional level and is deeply affecting. A great deal of this is due to Greer Garson, deservedly winning an Oscar for playing the most-loved and admired woman in an English countryside town that is doing its best to keep normal life going despite the presence of planes in the sky. She and her husband Walter Pidgeon are happily in love and hoping for the best for their son (Richard Ney, who later married Garson), who has signed up for the RAF. He has also fallen in love with the local gentry’s daughter, played by an intelligent and lovely Teresa Wright, which annoys her snobby grandmother (Dame May Whitty in one of her finest film performances) but pleases his parents. At the centre of all the fear and anxiety brought on by the war, not to mention a very frightening sequence involving a German pilot who sneaks his way into Garson’s backyard, is the village’s annual agricultural contest that sees the incumbent winner of many years Whitty going up against the local stationmaster Henry Travers for the best rose. He has named his prized flower after Mrs. Miniver, and she is hoping that Whitty will let go her musty feelings for tradition and let both Travers win the contest and the two young lovers to get married. The ending is positively shameless, but it’s also gorgeous, heartbreaking and deeply touching thanks to Garson’s exceptional command of the stiff upper lipness that is being celebrated here. It pours its propaganda off the screen, how could it not having come out so soon after America’s entry into the war, but it does so with a great deal of heart.