Oscar: Best Picture–Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Mrs._Miniver_posterPresident Franklin D. Roosevelt was so impressed with the film that he requested the hasty release of the schmaltzy and patriotic “Mrs. Miniver.” Later, the President had the vicar’s lofty speech at the end of the film printed in leaflet form and dropped by airplanes over Nazi-Occupied Europe.

However, the reaction of playwright Lillian Hellman, who was friends with the director, seems more reliable. Upon seeing the film, she told William Wyler, “Willie, this is such a piece of crap.”

Based on a book by Jan Struther, adapted to the screen by four scribes (Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton, and Claudine West), the film, a portrait of an English family during the Second World War, was a typically middlebrow MGM propaganda, a moral booster that reaffirmed the ideals of human suffering and fortitude.  Needless to say, the picture represented a very Hollywood version of an English ordinary family.

 

bib66fhxci3At the center of the story is an “ordinary housewife” (played by the stately and elegant Greer Garson, who won the Oscar), married to an architect (Walter Pidegon) who always buys new cars the family cannot afford. Mrs. Miniver is the proud mother of three children, one elder and two young ones. The movie was meant to symbolize the gallantry and courage of the British housewife during the Blitz.

Mrs. Miniver’ss unconquerable spirit in the face of war was meant to inspire other (American) housewives. By concentrating on one presumably “typical” family, “Mrs. Miniver” was meant to be a universal portrait. Though Garson is supposed to be a “plain and ordinary” woman, she is always well-dressed, wearing expensive hats, and courteous and controlled in every crisis she faces.

Mrs._Miniver_5The movie contains a number of touching scenes, such as the evacuation of Dunkerque and the harrowing night the family spends in a bomb shelter, but it loses the little credibility it has in a scene in which Mrs. Miniver encounters a downed German pilot she had captured.

Wyler’s direction is reliably skillful but impersonal, lacking the strength and depth he would show in his 1946 Oscar-winning film, “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

 

 

Oscar Context

Receiving the largest (12) number of nominations in 1942, “Mrs. Miniver” swept most of the major Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright), Screenplay (George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West, and Arthur Wimperis), and Black-and-White Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg).

Cast

Greer Garson as Mrs. Kay Miniver

Walter Pidgeon as Clem Miniver

Teresa Wright as Carol Beldon

Dame May Whitty as Lady Beldon

Reginald Owen as Foley

Henry Travers as James Ballard

Richard Ney as Vin Miniver

Henry Wilcoxon as Vicar

Christopher Severn as Toby Miniver

Brenda Forbes as Gladys, the housemaid

Clare Sandars as Judy Miniver

Marie De Becker as Ada, the cook

Helmut Dantine  as German Flyer

John Abbott as Fred

Connie Leon as Simpson

Rhys Williams as Horace

David Clyde as Carruthers