To hear my grandpa talk about it, World War II was a time fraught with danger and drama and filled with sacrifice. It was all about men, some only boys, going toe to toe with the Axis war machine and giving them a receipt for Pearl Harbor.
To hear Mrs. Miniver talk about it, World War II was all about how the stupid Germans interrupted the local flower show just as a big upset occurred when the flower raised by the stationmaster beat ten time winner Lady Beldon. What should have been a time of heady celebration and rioting instead turned into a mass panic as Nazi bombs began to rain down on the proceedings.
Greer Garson (Mrs. Parkington, Blossoms In The Dust) plays the Mrs. Miniver in question and apparently she’s supposed to represent the sturdy British wife who perseveres no matter how tough things become on the homefront, even if that means that she won’t be able to buy any more expensive ugly hats.
She’s such a pillar of goodness that she even inspires the guy at the train station to call his rose the “Mrs. Miniver” which while quite unsettling at least doesn’t assume the familiarity of using Mrs. Miniver’s first name, whatever that was. Even the Brits who are psychotic stalkers are all about manners.
Her husband (frequent Garson co-star Walter Pidgeon) is an architect and spends his time ignoring his kids so that he can brag all about his new car to his wife. I initially contented myself while wallowing in all this dull domestic bliss that at any moment, Panzers would be grinding that stupid rose into the mud and that Mr. Miniver would be killed in action, no doubt whispering “Mrs. Miniver, you were always my rose.”
But the minutes kept ticking away and there was still no signs of anything happening other than a mounting crisis over this flower contest. You see, the annual rose show is put on by Lady Beldon and every year she wins the show because no one has the audacity to rise above their station and enter a competing rose. But then the stationmaster decides to buck tradition and enter Mrs. Miniver. (I thought that was Mr. Miniver’s job!)
The village is divided by this and Lady Beldon’s granddaughter goes to Mrs. Miniver to ask her to convince the stationmaster to withdraw from the competition.
Making matters even worse from an entertainment perspective is that the Minivers have several annoying kids, but none more annoying than Vin. He’s a young, not terribly manly looking lad who is back home from Oxford.
He’s also full of new-fangled ideas about how the class system in Britain is wrong and doesn’t mind telling this to Beldon’s granddaughter, Carol. Do I have to point out that his “new-fangled ideas” were invented by us Americans way back in 1776?
In any case, he’s a mouthy know it all so Carol immediately falls for him. I would have been clawing my eyes out at this point, but now I was sure that it would be Vin that buys the farm while on some daring air patrol saving Buckingham Palace or some other British tourist trap. They get married straight away since with Vin doomed as a pilot in the RAF, the window for getting laid is rapidly closing.
But a funny thing happens on the way to the war for the Miniver men. They all survive! Mr. Miniver is battling on the homefront, going on patrol and joining a flotilla of civilian boats to help out at Dunkirk. He also spends most of the second half of the film either cowering in his bomb shelter with his family or joking about all the damage the Germans did to his home.
Vin flies off on various missions and we always know when he’s flying overhead because he makes his engines backfire as his mom gazes longingly up at the sky (more on that icky angle in a moment), but somehow he survives as well! This is a war? Someone has to die, right? So who is the gnarled finger of Death fingerbanging in this one? Carol!
Wartime safety tip: Don’t drive home after the big rose show during an air raid. Carol is killed, but not before a rather extensive death scene that finally concludes on Mrs. Miniver’s kitchen floor.
You can pretty much guess what that death scene means – Oscar, baby! That’s right, actress Teresa Wright scored an award for Supporting Actress for this role.
Speaking of the Oscars, Mrs. Miniver somehow won Best Picture, beating out superior films such as Kings Row and The Magnificent Ambersons despite its long, plodding story of a woman who didn’t do much of anything for the war effort. (Sure she captured a downed German pilot, but that was an accident and he was right outside her house.)
For Mrs. Miniver‘s most memorable moments though, pay particular attention to the scenes involving Garson (who also won an Oscar) and her on-screen son Vin. Guess who got married after the movie? That’s just plain gross, but at least it makes the movie a little more interesting. In real life, they would be divorced after a couple of years.
Don’t fret for Greer though because there would a happy ending in the form of Texas millionaire Buddy Fogelson. Sadly, for those of us watching the movie, there would be no oil baron to rescue us.
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