Mrs Miniver

film review by Renee Yeh

Mrs Miniver takes place during the early years of World War II, 1939, in the London suburb of Belham. Kay and Clem Miniver (Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon) are the happy and upper middle class family that the film revolves around. It is the summer of 1939 and village of life of Belham goes on as always, despite the hint of war that seems so far away. The film starts off by showing the Minivers being the perfect consumers. Mrs. Miniver spends her day in town shopping and Mr. Miniver decides to purchase a new car, everything is good for the Minivers, they are oblivious to the impending war that will deeply affect their lives. Vin Miniver (Richard Ney), the eldest of the Miniver children, returns from classes at Oxford. Vin's character is that of a fresh, idealistic young man. He is ready to take on the world and change it for the better. Vin is against the old feudal system of England, which is represented by his neighbor, Lady Beldon. For Vin, Lady Beldon (Dame May Witty) represents the friction of the classes in England. In the annual Belham flower show the Beldon rose always wins; it should be noted that the Beldon family started the flower show. But this summer there is competitor for best rose; it is the entry of the local stationmaster--the Mrs. Miniver. This subplot of the conflict of the roses can be looked at as reference to the tension between the middle and upper class in English society. Lady Beldon can not believe that an ordinary stationmaster is allowed to enter the competition. And when Vin falls in love with her granddaughter Carol (Teresa Wright), she believes that the upcoming war is an opportunity "dreadful little persons to make themselves important". This comment suggests that Lady Beldon believes that Vin is not of the same breeding/class as his granddaughter. The tension is eased over though, thanks to Mrs. Miniver. She reminds Lady Beldam of her own personal history. Lady Beldam was married at 16, eventhough her parents disapproved. This scene was meant to gloss over the fact of the class tension. A rigid class system has prevailed in England since the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was a system of imperialism, where the King and the Royal Family was on top, then the aristocracy and finally came the commoners. Beginning in the 18th century to the 20th century the British class system was losing its holding ground. Slowly the stronghold of the British royals was given up to a parliamentary form of government. Vin and Carol do get married, and both sides of the family are extremely happy.

As World War II begins, the idealistic Vin joins the Royal Air Force (RAF). The battle that occurred in Britain was that of an air war. The Luftwaffe, the German air force, was considered a superior power to be reckoned with. Part of Hitler's plan for the invasion if Britain was for the Luftwaffe to "soften" the country by continual bombings. The Germans targeted shipping ports, airfields, and the Midland industries. The final target was that of London. But the RAF turned out to be tactically superior to the Luftwaffe. The RAF lost only 900 planes, while the Germans lost over 2000. Lacking the air superiority, Hitler was forced to abandon his plans of invading Dunkirk. Vin is Great War hero; he is never injured and lives through the bombing missions. Not to be outdone Mr. Miniver is part of the local patrol unit and goes on secret mission. The movie incorporates the actual event of Dunkirk where in May of 1940 invading Germany and the sea trapped the British Army. To save its army England mobilized all boats, public or private, on the English coast. Over 300,000 troops were evacuated between May 27-June 4, 1940. Mrs. Miniver is not left out of the action; she has her own experience with the Germans. While waiting for Clem to come back from his secret mission, Kay finds a German soldier sleeping in the bushes. While she attempts to take a gun away from the sleeping soldier, he wakes up and they go to the Miniver home. She is not scared of the German, and she proclaims her strong defiance against the German invasion. They will never take over England. The German soldier passes out from the wound in his arm, and is taken away. Mrs. Miniver makes a reference that the German soldier will be treated well in the prison, meaning the English are a civilized people unlike the barbarians of Germany.

Mrs. Miniver is excellent propaganda film for World War II. It characterizes England as an innocent child. Life is ideal in Belham; everyone is doing well and has beautiful homes. The biggest problem is how to tell your spouse about the hat or car that you splurged on. But then England's innocence is stolen by the terrible attack by Germany. This horrible monster forces the people of Belham to live in bomb shelters, villagers are veiled in darkness for their own safety; children and parents cling to each other during the air raids; the beautiful, young, intelligent Carol Beldon is killed by the German attacks; Mrs. Miniver is held hostage by a German soldier; and the Germans force the annual flower competition to be cut short. Despite all these horrible events the citizens of Belham are strong and come together. The local grocer heads up the patrol unit, Vin joins the RAF and becomes a great hero, Mr. Miniver and the other men of the village gladly take part in the Dunkirk mission, and Mrs. Miniver, who before was more concerned about shopping, proves she has the bravery and resilience to survive the Germans. The movie shows how the British public reacted to the Battle of Britain and early days of World War II.

Mrs. Miniver ends with the villagers attending a service in the bombed-out church. Despite everything life in Belham is clinging to normalcy. The vicar then ends the movie with a powerful monologue that is to motivate and comfort the villagers. "War is not only fought by soldiers, War is fought all of the people . . . " "War effects cities, villages, factories, homes . . ." and what keeps everyone to keep on fighting is the "love of freedom". This monologue proved to be so powerful that President Franklin Roosevelt ordered it to be reprinted onto leaflets and dropped over occupied Europe.


revised 5/6/99 by Renee Yeh | Filmnotes | History Department