Mrs. Miniver (1942)
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After a deadly German bombing raid, the citizens of Belham,
including Lady Beldon and the Miniver family (right), gather in the parish
church to hear words of wisdom from the Vicar, beginning with a reading from
Psalm 91: 2-6 (King James Version)
2 I will say of the LORD,
He is my refuge and my fortress:
my God; in him will I trust.
3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler,
and from the noisome pestilence.
4 He shall cover thee with his feathers,
and under his wings shalt thou trust:
his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
6 nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
MRS. MINIVER closes with what has become one of the most famous
sermons in cinema history. Delivered in the ruins of the bombed out
parish church, The Wilcoxon
Speech (named for actor Henry
Wilcoxon who plays the Vicar in the film and who, with Wyler,
helped write the speech the night before the final day of shooting) succinctly
and eloquently explains to both the congregation and the film's larger
audience that this war is "not only a war of soldiers in uniform; it is a war
of the people, of all the people." As such, there is no room for
isolationism. The war must be fought and "with all that is in us."
The sermon was reprinted in such national magazines as Time, Look
and P.M., and President Roosevelt ordered it broadcast over the Voice
of America and leaflets of it dropped across Europe. (*4)
America needs your money.
Buy defense bonds and stamps every pay day.
-- Postlogue to MRS. MINIVER.
Critical and popular reaction to MRS. MINIVER
was universally laudatory across the United States, as expressed in the
reviews reproduced in the MRS. MINIVER
Articles section and the quotations below:
- "There has been nothing to touch the understated
eloquence of this magnificent and moving dramatization of the Battle of
Britain ... few works succeed in impinging on a time of crisis with stunning
force and meaning. Mrs. Miniver is one of these." --Howard Barnes,
The New York Herald-Tribune (1942). (*5)
- "In the production by Sidney Franklin,
the direction of William Wyler, the un-affected performances by Greer Garson
and Walter Pidgeon and their scarcely subordinate peers, an extraordinary amount of
taste, discretion, and artistry has been displayed to make this one of the
most important and beautiful film dramas of the season." --Variety
(13 May 1942).
Although MRS. MINIVER (1942) did substantial business in
Britain, critics and audiences on the other side of the Atlantic, while
appreciative of the effort, were not as enamored with the film as their
American counterparts. Among their complaints: the stereotypically
comical depictions of the working class characters (Gladys, the maid, and Ada,
the cook, for example); the attempt to describe the Minivers (who own a
pleasure boat and have a son at Oxford as well as two servants) as a typical,
middle-class English family; the apparent obliviousness of MRS. MINIVER's
characters to the heightening tensions and inflammatory events on the
Continent which preceded Britain's declaration of war; and the Minivers'
wardrobe which seemed ostentatious and overly-American to ration-blighted
British audiences by the time the film reached England in July 1942.
Nevertheless, British praise for the film was still forthcoming:
- "...propaganda worth a hundred battleships." --Winston
- "It is just as well, perhaps to anticipate criticism by
admitting that Hollywood's Mrs. Miniver (Empire) has its faults as a
study of English life in wartime... No gents outfitters of our acquaintance
supplied Mr. Miniver with his pyjamas... When these details are recognized,
however, the plain fact remains that Mrs. Miniver is the most moving,
sensitive, and inspirational film that has come out of the war yet in any
country." --C.A. Lejeune, The Observer (12 July 1942).
- "Of all the war films which have been seen in Edinburgh,
this one gives the truest picture of life as people in the London area knew
it in 1940-41... Greer Garson's
Mrs. Miniver is a very real person -- charming, graceful, and expressing in
her attitude to life the feelings of countless English wives and mothers.
as Mr. Miniver is also well cast, and the Lady Beldon of Dame May Whitty
is an extremely good study of "Her Ladyship." The other characters are
well played, although Richard Ney's Vin seems American rather than English."
--The Scotsman (27 October 1942).
Over the sixty years since MRS. MINIVER's 1942 release, the
film has suffered a good deal of ahistorical criticism, even from such
unlikely quarters as its own filmmakers and stars. Shortly after
director William Wyler
completed work on MRS. MINIVER, he joined the Army Signal Corps and was
overseas on Oscar night (March 4, 1943) when he won the Best Director Oscar for
his work on the film. In October 1942 during an interview with the BBC,
described how his firsthand experience of the war enabled him to realize the
inadequacies of MRS. MINIVER which he now felt "only scratched the surface of
war... I don't mean that it was wrong. It was incomplete." (*7)
And later, as she found her career somewhat stifled by the noble, stoic image
of her MRS. MINIVER character, Greer Garson
also expressed some misgivings about the movie. But by far, the greatest
damage to MRS. MINIVER's reputation as a film was done by the reactionary
anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam War era thirty years later which universally
condemned blatantly pro-war movies (like MRS. MINIVER) as well as screen
personae (like John Wayne), even from previous eras, as hawkish influences on
contemporary American foreign policy. Luckily however, with the dawn of
the 21st century, cooler heads prevail, and MRS. MINIVER (1942) can once again
be appreciated both for what it offered audiences of that certain period of
American (and world) history and for the insights into the past which it
continues to provide modern audiences who cannot help but find themselves
caught up in the lives of the film's timeless characters.
Elizabeth's favorite moment in MRS. MINIVER (1942): Toby
reaching out and noisily banging the door handle on his way out of church --
just one of many examples of the human touches in MRS. MINIVER which make the
- Herman, William Wyler 235.
- James Robert Parish and Gregory Mark, The Best of
M-G-M, The Golden Years: 1928-1959 (Westport: Arlington House Publishers,
- Cecil B. De Mille, The Autobiography of Cecil B. De
Mille (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1959) 336.
- Herman, William Wyler 237.
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