Set in 1939-1940 England, the 1942 film, “Mrs. Miniver,” directed by William Wyler, is a story of war, community, love and sacrifice. But most importantly, it is a story of family.
The main protagonist, Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson), is a typical happily married, upper class, stay-at-home wife with three children.
The Miniver family’s way of life is simple and satisfying. Her eldest son, Vin, is an arrogant graduate of Oxford, romancing a young woman from his hometown of Belham. On a typical day, Mrs. Miniver’s greatest anxiety is whether her husband, Clem (Walter Pigeon), will be upset about the money she splurged on an extravagant hat.
However, while at Sunday church in September 1939, her family’s comfortable lifestyle is interrupted by England’s declaration of war on Germany. Later that day Vin decides to join the Royal Air Force.
This is not the typical war movie that features the violence of battle. It is the story of those left behind. They are the mothers, the sweethearts, the elderly and the children. The ones left with anxiety and dread for their loved ones who have gone to war.
They bare not only constant fears, but also face daily death and destruction with quiet courage. Whether it is the British Army near annihilation at Dunkerque, or the bombings, or the air raids, civilians are constantly drawn into the midst of war.
The Miniver family holds together with steadfast courage throughout the time Mrs. Miniver finds a shot down German pilot in her garden, and the endless days waiting for her husband’s return from the rescue mission at Dunkerque, and her son’s absence fighting the air war overhead.
The Minivers remain strong through humor, compassion and spirit with which they carry on living as best they can. Through all the grief and suffering, there were always things worth holding on to.
The elderly stationmaster, Mr. Ballard, grew a marvelous rose that he named “The Mrs. Miniver,” which won first place at the town’s flower show. Small expressions such as these were what the village, England, and later America, fought to maintain.
As the film closes, the family and remaining townsfolk are found in the same, now partially destroyed, church as when war was declared in England. The preacher gives an inspirational sermon saying, “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.”
“Mrs. Miniver” was released during WWII, six months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, when Britain and America were in great peril. Although used partially as a propaganda film, it remains a classic to this day, reminding us of the personal sacrifices made, and the enduring strength of family.
Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.