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Mrs. Miniver (October 8, 2009)

Jan Struther, an English writer, published stories about the Miniver family in The Times of London in 1938 and 1939. The stories, which chronicle the approach and arrival of the war from the point of view of an English family, were later compiled into a novel that was published in 1939. The film was based on the characters Struther created, but not on the events of the novel. The screenplay was written by Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton and Claudine West. Filming began in November 1941, before the United States entered the war, and finished in April 1942. The film was released in July 1942.

The film was very successful as a piece of pro-British propaganda that hit America’s theaters as America focused on the war it had just entered. Lord Halifax, who was British ambassador in Washington, said it “portrays the life that people live in England today in a way that cannot fail to move all that see it.” Winston Churchill was said to have remarked that the effect of the film on public sentiment in the USA was worth a whole regiment. Public opinion polling of people who saw this film and two others relating to the British resistance to Hitler released in the summer of 1942 found that they were 17% more likely to be favorable to the British than people who had not seen the films. The review in the New York Times said “It is hard to believe that a picture could be made within the heat of present strife which would clearly, but without a cry for vengeance, crystallize the cruel effect of total war upon a civilized people. But that is what has been magnificently done in Metro’s Mrs. Miniver.” Look magazine said “The most important motion picture to come out of this war hasn’t a single battle in it.”

The movie grossed over $8 million dollars worldwide and over $5 million in North America, the most that any MGM film had ever made there. Such an extremely popular movie about a timely subject was bound to do well at the Academy Awards. It won best picture, William Wyler won for best director, Greer Garson won for best actress, Teresa Wright for best supporting actress, the screenwriters won for best adapted screenplay, and Joseph Ruttenberg won for best cinematography. Walter Pidgeon was nominated for best actor; Henry Travers, who plays the railway station manager, was nominated for best supporting actor; and Dame May Whitty, who plays Lady Beldon, was nominated for best supporting actress. The film was also nominated in the film editing, sound and special effects categories.

The final sermon, delivered by Henry Wilcoxon as the vicar, was said to have been written and rewritten by Wilcoxon and Wyler the night before it was to be shot. It was used by President Roosevelt as a morale builder and parts of it were used in leaflets dropped as propaganda over occupied territories. Wilcoxon’s brother had died while ferrying troops across the channel during the evacuation from Dunkirk, a story that found a parallel in this film. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into William Wyler’s version of the British response to the early days of World War II, Mrs. Miniver.