Wednesday, June 17, 2015

1942: Greer Garson for Mrs. Miniver

As the title character in this World War II Best Picture Winner, which I blogged about before here, Greer Garson helps keep people's spirits up in the midst of extremely difficult times. Though her family and everything else she holds dear is threatened by the war, Mrs. Miniver keeps her positive outlook, and thus encourages audience members to do the same.

It's very hard to summarize this movie without making it sound a little hokey, but the movie itself is surprisingly not. I think a lot of that has to do with Garson's performance. She makes Kay Miniver seem like a living, feeling human being. Yes, she remains positive, but that doesn't mean nothing ever fazes her; she just knows how to recover quickly. For example, she is clearly terrified throughout the scene when the German pilot has her at gunpoint, as we can see in her eyes and her behavior, but she doesn't let her fear paralyze her. Not only is she able to find a way out of that seemingly hopeless situation; she's even able to joke about it later that same day. Obviously, at the time this was meant as a way to encourage people to help the war effort, but even now it serves as an important reminder that nothing is as hopeless as it seems at first. This wouldn't be nearly as effective of a message if Mrs. Miniver had not been portrayed in such a realistic and likeable way that nearly everyone can and wants to relate to her.

There are, of course, other great aspects of the film besides Garson's performance. The story itself is very engaging. It's refreshing to see a war film from a woman's perspective. The rest of the cast is also quite good, although some of them have pretty pathetic British accents. Garson was born in London, so this was not a problem for her. Nor was it a problem for Dame May Whitty, who was absolutely delightful in this film. I think she should have gotten to share the Best Supporting Actress Oscar with Teresa Wright, who was also wonderful, as usual, although her accent was a little lacking. At least she did a way better job than Walter Pidgeon, who didn't even try, and Richard Ney, who almost got it sometimes but mostly just sounded weird. Speaking of weird, Ney played Garson's son in this movie, and the following year he became her husband in real life. Anyway, the point is, Greer Garson's portrayal of the title character is probably the best thing about this movie, but it is by no means the only thing to recommend it. I was glad for an excuse to watch it again, although the accent thing bothered me a lot more this time.

This was Garson's third of seven nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She was also nominated for 1939's Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1941's Blossoms in the Dust, 1943's Madame Curie, 1944's Mrs. Parkington, 1945's The Valley of Decision, and 1960's Sunrise at Campobello. The only Oscar she received was for Mrs. Miniver. Evidently she was beyond thrilled to win; her acceptance speech lasted five and a half minutes. Perhaps that has something to do with why she never won again.

Stay tuned for: Jennifer Jones

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