Mrs. Miniver

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USA, 1942

Director: William Wyler

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; black and white; running time: 133 minutes; length: 12,010 feet. Released June 1942.

Producer: Sidney Franklin; screenplay: Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton, and Claudine West, from the novel by Jan Struther; assistant director: Walter Strohm; photography: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Harold S. Kress; art director: Cedric Gibbons; associate art director: Urie McCleary; music: Herbert Stothart.

Cast: Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver); Walter Pidgeon (Clem Miniver); Teresa Wright (Carol Beldon); Dame May Whitty (Lady Beldon); Henry Travers (Mr. Ballard); Reginald Owen (Foley); Miles Mander (German Agent's Voice); Henry Wilcoxon (Vicar); Richard Ney (Vin); Clare Sander (Judy); Christopher Severn (Toby); Brenda Forbes (Gladys); Rhys Williams (Horace); Marie De Becker (Ada); Helmut Dantine (German Flyer); Mary Field (Miss Spriggins).

Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (Garson), Best Actress in a supporting Role (Teresa Wright), Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Director, Best Screenplay.



Wimperis, Arthur, and others, Mrs. Miniver, in Twenty Best FilmPlays, edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, New York, 1943.


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Chritensen, Jerome, "Studio Identity and Studio Art: MGM, Mrs.Miniver, and Planning the Postwar Era," in EHL, vol. 67, no. 1, Spring 2000.

* * *

During the early years of World War II, when the United States was still wavering between isolationism and interventionism, Britain was facing the possibility of invasion and defeat by the Nazis. The American film industry showed marked sympathies for Britain, but had mainly used the new war as a backdrop for the usual spy stories and action/adventure films. The MGM producer Sidney Franklin, whose films often used British settings, had the idea of making a tribute to Britain at war, a feature film intended to persuade Americans to help the beleaguered British.

Mrs. Miniver was the culmination of Franklin's efforts. The sentimental yet gripping story of "an average middle-class English family" (as the opening titles describe them) in the midst of total war, won six Academy Awards and was the box-office hit of 1942 on both sides of the Atlantic. President Roosevelt was given a preview and urged the film's early release, and Winston Churchill referred to it as "propaganda worth 100 battleships."

The Miniver family, though, is anything but average. As the film opens in 1939 they are conspicuously well-off, with a large suburban home, two maids, a boat, and a new convertible car. They are a wholesome, idealized middle-class, that American audiences could respect as well as identify with. Once the identification is established, though, the Miniver's comfortable complacency is shaken by the war. The director, William Wyler, portrays the family's hardships by gradually closing their once spacious home in upon them. This process culminates during the air raid sequences, when the terrified but stoic Minivers huddle together in their tiny bomb shelter. Whistling bombs descend around them, literally destroying their home.

Despite an enthusiastic critical response in America, and the sympathetic intentions of the filmmakers, many British critics vehemently rejected this portrait of Britain at war. They found particular offence in the emphasis placed upon the heroism and sacrifice of the upper middle-class Minivers. At a time when British films were emphasizing realism and the contribution of the ordinary man to the "people's war," Mrs. Miniver played the war for melodrama in the grand tradition of MGM. As the title suggests, this is a "woman's film," with the focus of the narrative placed squarely on the shoulders of the eponymous heroine, played by Greer Garson. Garson is far too young to play a woman with a son in the RAF, but otherwise rings true in this role of dignified maturity. Teresa Wright, as the Miniver's daughter-in-law, is another sympathetic lead; and even Dame May Whitty manages to breathe life into her usual appearance as a crusty old aristocrat. The affable but vacuous male leads, Walter Pidgeon and Richard Ney, were perhaps cast so as not to detract attention from the more formidable women.

The landscape the Minivers inhabit is MGM's often used contemporary Olde England: a land of castles and quaint villages, populated by servile working-class caricatures and the landed gentry. In order to present Britain as a democracy worthy of being saved from Nazi rule, Mrs. Miniver attempts to alter this scenario only slightly: the middle-class Minivers are highlighted, while the marginal classes are seen to mingle harmoniously. A prolonged subplot involving the village flower show takes this idea to an absurd length. The filmmakers don't deny that an antiquated class system operates in Britain, but try to appear progressive in suggesting that class differences are differences of accent and disposition rather than economic inequalities.

Mrs. Miniver was the right film at the right time. Its blatant pro-British propaganda was somewhat alleviated in America by the U.S. entry into the war before the film was released. Mrs. Miniver thus came to symbolize not only the British sacrifice, but the sacrifices Americans were facing. Its enormous success encouraged MGM to embark on an entire series of films either celebrating the British at war or using their "castles and class" vision of England as a romantic setting. It seemed that there would indeed always be an England, so long as MGM was there to concoct it. The more memorable of these films, such as Random Harvest, kept the propaganda to a minimum. But the stodgy, message-filled White Cliffs of Dover, made just two years later, bared all of the presences of Mrs. Miniver without supplying the compensatory charms.

—H. M. Glancy