greer garson mrs miniver 2
Greer Garson as Mrs Miniver

 

CRUMBLIES… 5 crumblies

When I texted Jack to say how much I had enjoyed Mrs Miniver, my phone auto-corrected the name of its star, Greer Garson. It said: Greet Hard On.

Sometimes, your phone know you better than you know yourself.

The radiance of Ms Garson illuminates just about every moment of this Golden Age classic.

Why does the film belong here, on a blog about movies that appeal particularly to the middle-aged or older man? Well, because Mrs Miniver is one of those rare Hollywood examples of a movie in which a woman in her motherly years is still beautiful and sexy, not to mention strong and resourceful.

Conceived while Britain stood alone against the Axis, the film was MGM’s gesture of solidarity with the British people. It tells the story of one middle class English family whose comfortable existence is forever changed in September 1939.

The male viewer will fall in love with Kay Miniver within a few minutes. It seems to be a common reaction in the village of Belham. At the outset, as she boards a train back from her shopping trip in town, it’s clear that the vicar who shares her carriage adores her. So does the village station master Mr Ballard (Henry Travers, best known as the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life). In fact, old Ballard worships her so much that he’s named a new variety of rose in her honour. That’s understandable. I’d name whole botanical gardens after her.

She may be a mother of three, but the spark has not gone out on her relationship with Clem Miniver (Walter Pidgeon). She struts about for him in her nightdress plus the hat she bought in town, and later in the movie he even delivers a playful spank to Garson’s beautiful 37-year-old derriere. This being a film of the 1940s, they’re shown to have separate beds, but we get the impression they probably push them together fairly often.

In the early reels, the Minivers’ troubles are all little ones. She has bought the aforementioned hat while he has splashed out on a new car. Their eldest son Vin (Richard Ney), just down from Oxford is full of presumptuous talk about socialism, although it’s easily vanquished by the charms of the lovely Carol (Teresa Wright). Her grandmother is Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty), before whom the whole village bends – with the exception of Mrs Miniver, whose stubborn charm can melt even Dame May’s haughty superiority.

But before long, these ordinary English problems are long forgotten, as the family deal with the real hardships of conscription, air raids, and the fear that any of their loved ones could die at any time.

Mrs Miniver shows her mettle by dealing calmly with a German intruder in her home while the men are out dealing with an air raid. But she also shows strength of the emotional kind when she keeps the family together in the face of hardships.

Yes, this is a Hollywood England, where MGM production values have created an unfeasibly big cottage, and where some of the accents belong a thousand miles from the home counties. But the setting very quickly comes to feel right.

The scene in which Clem and Kay attempt to comfort their children in the air raid shelter, as the bombs rain down, feels unbearably real. The explosions – much louder than the dialogue – had our living room rattling as surely as any brainless Michael Bay spectacular, and to much greater effect.

As weeks pass in the film’s narrative and men volunteer for duty, I started to speculate about the characters’ fate. Assuming I was so much more sophisticated than the audience of 75 years ago, I thought I was ahead of the film. But director William Wyler and his four screenwriters crafted a great story. And great story-tellers are usually ahead of their audience.

Suffice it to say that by the end, we see a community damaged, bereaved, but resolute and unbeatable.

The whole package is as profoundly beautiful as Greet Hard On herself.