Mrs. Miniver could never be so easily defined and labeled as simply inspirational; there was a greater purpose behind the narrative of this film. Granted, the image of Britain presented in the film sways further to the side of fiction than true reality yet, “the United States seemed captivated by the quaint olde world of cottages and country houses and trips to town” (Cull 182). This ideological world created by Hollywood for the U.S. public and reinforced by films like Mrs. Miniver, allowed Americans to interpret the German Blitz, “understanding the facts by projecting the experience onto their imagined world of British fiction (Cull 182). The goal of director William Wyler was to produce a film that would encourage the American public to support and become involved in the U.S. military campaign against Axis powers in Europe (Christensen 262). Winston Churchill would later term the film “propaganda worth more than a hundred battleships” (Kozloff 459). The ability of this film to connect with the viewer played a critical role in how audiences received the film and, in turn, caused Mrs. Miniver to be one of the most successful films of its time, taking home the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director – William Wyler, Best Actress – Greer Garson, Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Teresa Wright, Best Black and White Cinematography – Joseph Ruttenberg, and Best Screenplay – George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West, and Arthur Wimperis (Atkinson 27-28).
Mrs. Miniver, acted as a tool to sway American public opinion by illustrating how the new method of total warfare impacted the innocent populace of Great Britain. Targeted towards the American audience, the message of the film expresses how the U.S. populace should not only feel a great amount of sympathy towards those in Britain who are suffering through the tragedies and heartbreaks of war but should also recognize “America’s situation is analogous to theirs insofar as even civilians, and thus potentially mainland Americans, are endangered by an enemy so ruthless and fanatical. The traditional MGM message coincides with the path of patriotic prudence: Americans should elect the integration that the British have been forced to adopt” (Christensen 263-264), referring specifically to the integration of the idea and practices of the total war.
American citizens were overwhelmed by the prospect of and subsequent involvement in a second world war only 21 years after the resolution of the first one. Many of these had already faced the heartache of sending off their brothers, fathers, husbands, and sons to battle, thousands of them not returning home. Many who served and survived now had children. It surely pained them to know firsthand the horrors that would now have to be experienced by their offspring and how it would forever change their lives, if they were so blessed to still have their lives when all was said and done. This sense of being overcome with grief is related in a scene from Mrs. Miniver in which the small village congregation had just learned the news that their country was again at war. During the scene, the congregation sings the closing hymn immediately following the vicar’s announcement of war. The camera goes to a wide angel shot of the Miniver family but they are actually located in the background of the shot, indicating that for the present, Wyler wants the audience to focus on some other aspect of the moment.
In the foreground, a lone elderly woman stands, who is overcome with grief at the idea of having to endure another war. The release of Mrs. Miniver came only 6 short months after the U.S. had entered the Second World War. Surely this lady’s anguish resonated within the populace of the U.S. To have to endure this pain again so soon after the First World War must have been devastating and even crippling for American morale, like pouring salt in a still open wound.
Films like Mrs. Miniver allowed the American public to experience an aspect of this new war they had previously not been exposed to. The characters in the film warm the heart and it is almost impossible for audiences, especially audiences who were reeling from the pain of separation and loss caused by war, not to become emotionally invested in the lives and well being of the Minivers and their friends in the quaint little English village. This film empowered Americans with a renewed sense of purpose. The film gave citizens a reason to rally together – freedom. For freedom is always worth fighting for, sometimes we just need to be reminded that our losses cannot possibly outweigh the exultation of being free.
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Mrs. Miniver. Dir. William Wyler. Perfs. Helmut Dantine, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Henry Travers, Henry Wilcoxon, and Teresa Wright. 1942. Warner Brothers, 2009. DVD.
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