This Week in the Box: Mrs. Miniver

Mrs_MiniverNote: This Week in the Box is a year-long series where Sam works through the entire Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection box set. To find reviews of the other films in the series and see the complete list, click here.

I don’t know if it’s because I wasn’t buying into the story, but I was shocked when I learned that Mrs. Miniver is in the extremely exclusive club of having had a whopping five actors nominated for Academy Awards. Now, basic math indicates that since there are only four acting categories (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress), that means Miniver got nominations in all of them and two nominations in one. There are only three other films in the history of the Oscars to achieve that (From Here to Eternity, Bonnie and Clyde, and Network), so Mrs. Miniver is in rarefied air indeed.

(Oscar tangent: there are 15 movies that have nominees in all four acting categories; no film has ever won all four. In fact, only one film has even won three of the four, and it was A Streetcar Named Desire. The missing win was Marlon Brando, who was beat out by an obscure actor now lost to history, name of Humphrey Bogart.)

Now, the acting in Mrs. Miniver was fine, but I didn’t finish the movie and say “By jove, that was the greatest acting I’ve ever seen!” Mostly, I just finished the movie and said “Meh.” So this movie came out in 1942, based on a book on events that took place in 1939. The war has come to Europe, but the US is keeping their collective noses out of it, thank you very much. Living in rural England, Mrs. Miniver herself has a husband and three children, two youngsters and one college-age son. The Minivers are quite well to do; they have a maid as well as a nanny, the latter of whom has apparently sole responsibility for raising the two youngest kids (naturally).

The movie opens with Mrs. Miniver on a shopping spree, including splurging on a new hat, and her return home to Mr. Miniver, who has just splurged on a more-expensive-than-planned new car. These are people who can throw money around, which makes you think that the arc of the movie will have them humbled by the war, and possibly rationing, and they will learn Real Life Lessons and come through it stronger and more resilient. Nope! Not only does none of that happen, they seem pretty materially unaffected by the war. Things happen to them– Vincent joining the air force, Mr. Miniver being recruited for an impromptu mission in his pleasure boat (which is based on a real event), a downed German pilot briefly holding Mrs. Miniver hostage– but nothing has much weight. The Minivers float merrily, nobly along like a leaf on the current that seems to miss every raindrop that might sink it. At the end of the movie, the moral is not that war is terrible, or that war destroys the things you love, or that war is a thing to avoid. It’s that you must fight very hard and very nobly in the war for your noble and patriotic country (the UK, exclusively) or the Evil, Nasty Germans will ruin what you hold dear. If they hurt something you love, it’s because you weren’t fighting hard enough.

Miscellaneous extra comments:

  • Only a few of the characters actually have British accents, and none that do have much screen time. All the big-name actors apparently decided they weren’t having that and spoke with their normal American accents. At one point a character says they’re going north to Scotland, which makes you go “Oh right. North to Scotland. From England. Where this movie is taking place.”

  • Guilty impulse buys haven’t changed a whit in 72 years. Mrs. Miniver sees a hat, wants it, then buys it on a whim, saying something like “No, don’t ask me again, put it in the box before I change my mind.” We think we’ve progressed since 1942, but our intentional self-delusion in over-spending remains exactly the same.

  • There’s a subplot about a rose and a garden competition that I didn’t mention because I don’t care.

Not Particularly Recommended

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