1942: Mrs. Miniver

(Originally published January 9, 2013)

The movie opens with a young wife urgently traveling across town and one gets the impression that something is about to go horribly wrong in her life.  This suspense is humorously assuaged when she rushes into the haberdashery and purchases a fancy hat that she had apparently been thinking about for some time.

This hurried scene is immediately juxtaposed by a calming conversation between Mrs. Miniver and the conductor at the train station.  He takes her into his office to show her a beautiful red rose he has tended and made beautiful.  Sweetly, with no romantic overtones, the train conductor asks if he can please name the rose “The Mrs. Miniver.”  It is clear that the hat will likely drop off the radar as the film and the war march forward while the presence of the rose and its namesake will endure.

The array of characters and events in the plot echo the pattern of these opening scenes.  Wartime comes to England and everyone must rise to the occasion, but nobody is going to forsake pleasure entirely.  The flower shows and church meetings and laughter must go on.

Easily the most likable character is Miss Beldon; she bridges the gap between the upper and middle classes in a lively, genuine way.  Her spunk and pluck keep the Minivers, especially young Vincent, on their toes.  We first meet Miss Beldon when she visits the Minivers on behalf of her grandmother, Lady Beldon.  After hearing her request, Vin Miniver attempts to put Miss Beldon in her place and stand up for his class with all of his newly acquired Oxford knowledge and maturity.  Miss Beldon calmly opens Vin’s eyes that talking will not accomplish much; “Every now and then a little action is required.”  One can see immediately that despite this conflict, Miss Beldon and Vin are an excellent intellectual match.

Another example of Miss Beldon’s wit, charm, and ability to zing right back occurs at a social dance. She asks Vin to dance with her and although he claims to be a great dancer, he replies, “Is this the time for frivolity?”  Without missing a beat, Miss Beldon smiles and says, “Is this the time to lose one’s sense of humor?”

Lady Beldon, grandmother of Miss Beldon, undergoes the most radical character growth throughout the film, as she learns to see and accept goodness and wisdom in other characters despite their station.  One prominent theme is that age and class systems are irrelevant in war time.  Air raids, rations, death, and time affect everyone across the board.  This is predominantly shown through Lady Beldon, who is snobby and aristocratic until Miss Beldon and Vin Miniver become engaged.  She protests their young age (though her underlying frustration is clearly the class difference), until Mrs. Miniver gently persuades Lady Beldon otherwise.  Lady Beldon realizes that time is precious to young people and that making the most of that time is more important than labels and status.  By the end of the film, Lady Beldon is a much warmer character who puts others before herself and finds joy in interacting with all types of people.

The title character is a rock.  War time women were a special breed.  Over the course of the film, she feeds a German soldier while being held at gunpoint, watches her husband and son go off to combat, comforts her young children in an air raid shelter, and holds a dying loved one in her arms.  Her appearance changes and she looks much older by the end, but Mrs. Miniver remains strong and retains her joyful visage despite the hardships and pain.

The film ends with a powerful, patriotic message from the preacher, the congregation singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”, and an image through the fallen roof of the church of fighter jets flying toward Germany.  The movie must end this way because in 1942, the war had not yet been resolved.  All that could be done was to inspire a message of hope amidst the message of reality.

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