Perhaps the title of this film is a lie. Nowadays, you go into a film named after a particular character expecting it to be about that person. But “Mrs. Miniver” is less about its protagonist and more of how the British home front dealt with the German invasion at the beginning of World War II. While we see a large portion of this war from Greer Garson’s perspective, we see how this fight effects everyone around her, including her American husband (Walter Pidgeon), their Oxford-grad son who goes off into the war, the girl he ends up falling in love with (Teresa Wright) and many of the townsfolk like the smug old rich Lady Beldon and the quiet yet kind bell-ringer who names a flower after Mrs. Miniver.
Our protagonist mostly ends up being a witness to many of the selfless acts these characters take for the sake of the war and for each other. There’s a large scene in the middle when the men in the town get together, led by Mr. Miniver, and send every boat they have to head out to Dunkirk. The scene has nothing to do with Greer Garson’s character, but shows the comradery and bravery of these men who would risk everything to protect their fellow man. And while Garson handles her role with pride and a suave demeanor, she is left with little to do outside of showing the resolve of the British people.
Her one true moment to shine comes when she finds a wounded Nazi-pilot in a bush near her house. The pilot looks like her son, so she is unsure if she should turn him in or help him. But it is clear that she is terrified, especially when he points a gun at her and begins making demands.
“Mrs. Miniver” is, for lack of a better term, effective propaganda. Made in 1942 for mostly American audiences, the film was made to show the rest of the world how the British were struggling against the Nazis and to show what the rest of the world was fighting for. It was created as a way to push those who were unsure about the war into helping in any way possible. And in this regard “Mrs. Miniver” excels in presenting Americans with a great example of why we fight to protect our way of life, and show that it is a life worth fighting for.
Overall, “Mrs. Miniver” does a fine job as a wartime melodrama. It gives a much larger picture of how Britain was affected by the German invasion and the constant fear that plagued the people. The true strength of the film comes from how these people react to that fear.
Final Grade: C+