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On this Oscar nominations morning, we go way back to this Best Picture winner from 1942 and its new Blu-ray edition....
Warner / 134 Minutes / 1942 / Unrated / Street Date: January 8, 2013
"When Hitler did his worst, Mrs. Miniver did her best," goes the back-of-the-box blurb. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) doesn't fly a Spitfire in dogfights over London or ply the North Sea in a battleship, but she's doing her all for wartime England. Whether comforting children in a bomb shelter, capturing an enemy parachutist or delivering an inspiration portrait of English resolve at its finest, she's Mrs. Miniver - and Hitler better watch out.
Mrs. Miniver is a film that, today, is easy to dismiss yet still impossible to resist. Winston Churchill claimed that it "was more vital to the war effort than a fleet of destroyers," and it is unabashedly and unapologetically sunny-eyed. It is certainly the type of film I would normally have a knee-jerk reaction to, yet I couldn't help but feel uplifted (if shamelessly manipulated) by the end. Like all war films of the period, the conflicts are simplified and the drama often reduced to platitudes. But how can you not root for Mrs. Miniver? And applaud Garson's passionate, defiant performance?
Certainly, many today will question Mrs. Miniver's actions throughout the film. Considered a role model for women in the 1940's, she seems to be symbolic of an England tending to its roses while the bombs were going off all around it - a society trying to maintain their reserved demeanor and humanity yet still fight the most unimaginable of evils. Yet the film's concept of sacrifice is debatable.
The only scene in the film that is truly moving is the sequence in the bomb shelter, when Mrs. Miniver does only what she can, holding onto her son as the weapons of mass destruction are being dropped over England. Apparently, that scene alone was enough reason to win this one the Best Picture Oscar of 1942. Is it enough to spare the film from historical decrepitude? And could she - and should she - have done more? I don't know... but it sure feels good to watch her try.