Mrs. Miniver (1942)


…this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, all of the people. And it must be fought…in the heart of every man, woman and child who loves freedom.

–The Vicar’s sermon at the close of Mrs. Miniver

Here it is at the end of the week of January 20, 2017, and it seemed good to revisit William Wyler’s classic and much awarded film of the drama of the sudden emergence of World War 2 inside Britain–the bombings, fugitive German pilots, blackouts and the rest–and primarily its interruption of a light, happy and secure life in villages among people going about peaceful journeys founded on a liberal tradition. Mrs. Miniver, played superbly by Greer Garson, treats herself to a stylish hat in an expensive shop and then goes home to a husband and offspring on another happy day in a bright, comfortable house in a country village setting, and later that evening is joyously surprised by her husband’s purchase of a new car. But unease about a war that may be coming is growing. Before she gets home that afternoon, a workman with a hobby of growing roses names his newest one after her and declares that nothing, not even war, will end the place of roses in Britain, the rose being essential to the very existence of the island nation. Mrs. Miniver is affected by that idea.

Mrs. Miniver is a hero. She is a graceful woman who is kind, patient, strong and realistic. Indeed, the movie is largely about women bravely facing the catastrophe of authoritarianism being visited upon a society at its center: the family and its values. Her encounter with a German pilot hiding in the countryside especially shows both her compassion and her toughness. Her brave support of her husband’s journey to Dunkirk in their small boat shows her self-sacrificing realism. She comforts old and young and makes compromises forced by the war–should her son, Vin, now in the RAF and at massive risk, marry Carol (played flawlessly by Teresa Wright), a girl he has fallen in love with? Mrs. Miniver convinces that he must. Faced with a hard choice amidst the perils of war, she chooses a likely brief happiness for the young couple over endless regret.

As the movie carries forward, Mrs. Miniver personifies the best in a liberal tradition: how its Enlightenment values about the individual are the values that will defeat authoritarian attacks. That tradition holds up in the fear and stress. In all situations, she instinctively so conducts herself.

Mrs. Miniver isn’t an elaborately plotted movie with a complex theme. It needs no extensive analysis. It’s simply bracing. And especially on January 28, 2017, and despite its distant setting, Mrs. Miniver feels apt. She is a timely paragon.