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Film / Mrs. Miniver

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"This is the people's war. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it, then! Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the Right."

Mrs. Miniver is a 1942 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, directed by William Wyler and starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Teresa Wright.

The film follows the upper-middle-class Miniver family, who live in a village outside London. The Minivers have a typical English family's typical issues — such as their eldest son, Vin, wanting to marry Carol (Wright), the granddaughter of Lady Beldon — but Britain's entry into World War II soon gives them bigger things to worry about. Vin joins the RAF, mother Kay (Garson) mans the home front, and father Clem (Pidgeon) takes the family sailboat out one night at the end of May 1940 to a place called Dunkirk.

The film was considered a powerful weapon in the wartime propaganda campaign against the German Reich, as well as hailed as an outstanding artistic achievement, being nominated for twelve Academy Awards and winning six, including Best Picture, Best Director (Wyler), Best Actress (Garson), Best Supporting Actress (Wright), and Best Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg).

Based on English author Jan Struther's 1939 book of the same title, which was itself adapted from a series of newspaper columns featuring the eponymous character that Struther had written for The Times. A less-well-remembered sequel, The Miniver Story (1950), picked up the Minivers after the war, with Garson and Pidgeon reprising their roles.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Greer Garson was a little annoyed that, at only 38, she was asked to play the mother of a grown man.
  • Age Lift: Vincent. In the book, he had just started at Eton, making him a 14-to-15-year-old. In the film he's eighteen and turns nineteen, making him old enough to join the RAF.
  • The Alleged Car: An opening gag is Clem Miniver buying a new car that is incredibly pricey - and at dinner he tries to convince his wife that it was a much-needed purchase.
  • Anyone Can Die: Carol says, near the end, that she accepts that Vincent might be killed in the war, and that she intends to enjoy the rest of the time she gets to spend with him — she'll have the rest of her life to mourn. And then, when Mrs. Miniver is trying to drive Carol home that night, and parks to watch the aeronautical action, some plane strafes the Minivers' car. Mrs. Miniver is okay (she didn't realize the car had actually been shot); Carol... isn't.
  • Artistic License Biology: Apparently a rose grown in August can still be alive and in bloom the following June.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • The Minivers have one that sadly gets destroyed in the bombing raid.
    • Lady Beldon naturally has one with a large cellar that is used for shelter at one point.
  • Bloodless Carnage: We see two people who were shot close up. We do not see either of them bleeding.
  • Break the Haughty: By the end of the film, Lady Beldon is left a lonely old woman with her beloved granddaughter dead.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: In the first church scene, there's a humorous bit of Lady Belton getting ushered into a private box with Carol helping her like a maid. In the final scene, Lady Belton is helped into the same box, this time on her own. By the end, Vin joins her to fill in for the deceased Carol.
  • Cerebus Retcon:
    • Lady Beldon objecting to Carol marrying young - and then it being revealed that she married at sixteen - is initially played as Hypocritical Humor. Then she reveals her marriage lasted only weeks because her husband died in the war. And she doesn't want Carol to suffer the same way.
    • A lot of the wartime protocols are played for comedy at first - such as the Miniver family being reprimanded for a tiny chink of light coming from their black-out blind, and Lady Beldon refusing to go into her cellar for safety. As the war goes on, things get steadily worse.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mr Ballard the station master, by virtue of being such a Nice Guy that everyone in town loves him. It makes The Reveal of his death at the end all the more heart breaking.
  • Curse Cut Short: When Mr. Ballard dares to challenge Lady Beldon at the rose contest, one of his friends says that Beldon should have stuck to the railway (he's a conductor). An irritated Mr. Ballard says "and the railway can go to—" and a church bell rings.
  • Dangerous Deserter: He isn't a deserter, he's a German pilot who got shot down over England. But in every other respect, the pilot that holds Mrs. Miniver hostage in her kitchen while demanding food and milk is this.
  • Death of a Child: In the final scene, when the priest is listing the casualties, he makes mention of a choir boy - and there's then a shot of the rest with an empty space on the bench. Carol is also only eighteen, making her the youngest member of the main cast if you want to get technical (excluding Toby and Julie).
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Lady Beldon warms up to Vin and Carol's young marriage, culminating in her changing the results of the flower show to let Mr Ballard win.
  • Distracted from Death: Carol dies while Kay is trying to get her water from the kitchen.
  • Dumbass Teenage Son: Vin mildly. He starts out as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, but he quickly grows out of it.
  • English Rose: Carol and Kay, Carol more so due to being younger and of good birth. Both are also connected to the symbolism via the rose contest. Kay is played by Greer Garson, who was Hollywood's favourite actress to put in such roles.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: Vin's wing of Spitfires is shown taking off from the airfield to meet the Germans.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: The film starts off light-hearted, with Stiff Upper Lip English villagers dealing with World War II in their own cheerful way. The war gets worse and the film gets far more serious - Kay has to contend with a German soldier in her house, the family are nearly killed when their house is bombed and Carol and Mr Ballard die in another attack.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Vin and Carol have young Toby to thank for asking them if they're going to get married.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: This film is about the transition between Christie Time and World War II.
  • Grande Dame: Lady Beldon, who is very aware of her family's noble heritage and very snobby and classist. The necessities of World War II humanize her quite a bit.
  • Hollywood Night: Lampshaded; Mr. Miniver turns off the lights so he can open the windows and notes that it's bright as day out there. Yes, Hollywood Night can occur in black & white films. It's especially egregious in this case as the town is under wartime blackout, meaning there aren't any streetlights.
  • Ironic Echo: There is a church scene near the beginning of the film and a church scene at the end. The same hymn in both. But the church looks very different...
  • Kill the Cutie: Subverted Trope with Vincent, Double Subversion with Carol.
  • Killed Offscreen: Mr Ballard is revealed to have been killed in the same bombing raid that Carol died in.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: The Miniver family has a huge black and white cat. Their youngest child, Toby, is particularly attached to the sweet animal.
  • Law of Conservation of Normality: Even during World War II, during periods of bombing, there will still be roses and flower shows. And just because a building has been bombed out doesn't mean you have to stop using it.
  • Let Them Die Happy: While Carol is dying in front of her, and all the ambulances are busy seeing to other casualties, Kay lies to her to say help is on the way.
  • Mood Dissonance: While Kay is being held up at gunpoint, she and the German soldier hear a cheerful whistling. It's the milkman doing his morning rounds, oblivious to what's happening in the house.
  • Mood Whiplash: The light and heartwarming scene of the flower show segues into a nasty bombing raid that sees two of the main cast members Killed Off for Real.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Carol's fatal gunshot wound is revealed when Kay sees two bullet holes in the roof of the car.
  • No Ending: The war was still going when this was filmed.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Americans Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright, playing Britons.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mr Miniver is known only as Clem. His wife uses his full name Clement as part of a mild Full-Name Ultimatum.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The final shot pans up from the congregation in the church to a giant hole in the roof of the church, caused by a German bomb. Then British fighter planes zip past the clouds visible through the roof, and the movie ends.
  • Pretty in Mink: Several fur coats and fur muffs are worn.
  • Racist Grandma: Lady Beldon again. Though "Classist Grandma" may be more accurate.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: There are several plot-important battles, but the only one we get to see is the last one.
  • Sleeping Single: Maybe the Minivers conceived those children by osmosis.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Clem alludes to the trope, saying it was the women's jobs to stay quietly at home while the men were away at Dunkirk. Little does he know that his wife apprehended a German soldier. In the kitchen no less!
  • Stupid Evil: The German pilot who pulls a gun on Kay and demands bread, milk, and a coat, while breathing all sorts of Nazi threats. He is Trapped Behind Enemy Lines, on an island. Why doesn't he just surrender?
  • Tokyo Rose: The "German friend of England" (likely Lord Haw-Haw) who sends radio messages to England, trying to demoralize the citizens of England and push the country out of the war. The English just laugh him off.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Kay Miniver begins the film doing idle wife things like shopping and attending parties. She contributes to the war effort, assumes control of her household after the servants leave to help the effort too, apprehends a German soldier without anyone in the house noticing and does her best to get Carol to safety when she's shot in a bombing raid. Sadly the last one doesn't work. She's an Iron Lady by the end.
  • Trash the Set: Happens offscreen, but a nasty bombing raid leaves the Miniver house partially destroyed. The same is true of the church in the end scene.
  • Twist Ending: The main source of dramatic tension in the movie is the fate of Vin, who has joined the RAF. The Minivers worry about him, Lady Beldon doesn't want her granddaughter widowed young like she was, and Carol herself says that she has to face the possibility of losing Vin. However, as it happens, it's Carol who is killed in a Luftwaffe raid, while Vin goes through the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain without a scratch.
  • Wake Up Make Up: Kay always seems to have perfect make-up whenever she's in bed, with her hair lightly tousled at most.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never hear about the fate of Horace, the husband of Gladys, who joins the war effort early on.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Lady Beldon ultimately chooses to pretend the Miniver rose did win the rose competition, with only the Miniver family and the judges the wiser.
  • Writer on Board: The segment with the German soldier was originally written showing him as a sympathetic enough enemy who just got more than he bargained for. During the film's production, America entered the war, and the Jewish director William Wyler made the soldier Obviously Evil - who shows no remorse for the carnage and is in fact proud of all the people he's killed.