A film for fans of tear-jerking viral clips and Anthony Hopkins. One life tells the story of Sir Nicholas Winton – often synchronized the “British Schindler” – in two different timelines. In 1938, young Winton (Johnny Flynn) travels from London to Prague on the eve of World War II to support refugee efforts. Fifty years later and still dealing with the guilt of those he failed to save, an older Winton (Hopkins) attempts to finally reckon with the burden of the past, which results in him accidentally being invited as a guest to the British show That’s life. His appearance made his story public, but it was moving Viral clip the episode that made it known worldwide in 2009.
The combination of Hopkins’ cast and the effective theme makes it possible One life It’s immediately intriguing, especially as a film that builds to a recognizable moment that’s often shared online. Overall, it’s a simple, straightforward war drama whose two-part structure allows Hopkins to be heartfelt. However, the clip’s approach to the events is a surprising extension of the film’s more complicated moments. The final act is, as expected, incredibly moving, but James Hawes, making a feature film for the first time, isn’t content to wrap things up neatly and conveniently.
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One life jumps back and forth to the beat
In 1988, Hopkins’ version of Winton wanders aimlessly around his picturesque country house when he’s not out collecting donations for local children. When dealing with his wife Grete (Lena Olin), he is open-hearted and matter-of-fact and shows subtle impatience when he is not helping someone else. Perhaps it’s a strange psychological result of his time in the metaphorical trenches, but when we first meet Winton in the 1930s, he behaves similarly, as if he’s somehow predisposed to survivor’s guilt.
Part of it has to do with his principled mother Babi (Helena Bonham Carter) and her stories of how her family fled Germany for London in the 1870s amid rising anti-Semitism. All of Winton’s grandparents were Jewish, but he was baptized, and his family later changed their name from Wertheim to Winton to avoid having German associations during World War II. He is a man whose identity is in flux, right down to his innate Good Samaritan drive. So he gives up his cushy job as a stockbroker and travels to Czechoslovakia – a state on the edge of Nazi occupation – if only to help complete the paperwork in a refugee camp.
Helena Bonham-Carter plays Winton’s mother Babi.
Photo credit: See-Saw Films
But for Winton, the basics are not enough, and a first-hand look at the condition of the local children spurs him to action. As a newcomer, he is somewhat overwhelmed, but if something is not done soon, hundreds if not thousands of children may not survive the upcoming winter, or worse.
The hustle and bustle of young Winton, organizing rescue trains and corresponding with English foster families, makes up a good portion of the flashbacks, which are painted in gloomy blues and grays. However, the time frame is completely different in the 1980s, as it seems more summery, has long, quiet sections and takes on a pensive tone. The past is about action, the present is about thinking and One life Overall, it’s about their interaction. Occasionally it presents this dynamic in a sensitive way, with a few cuts between timelines that create or reinforce meaning – at one point the elder Winton remembers crucial moments when he is submerged in the water and has to gasp for air – although after a while, it settles into a mechanical rhythm and oscillates back and forth between the 30s and the 80s almost at random.
But even as the film’s aesthetic and narrative connective tissue unravels, one important thread that ties the two timelines together remains: its lead actors.
Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Flynn complement each other in their work
One lifeThe two versions of Winton are sides of the same coin, and the actors who play him mesh effortlessly despite never appearing on screen together. Although Flynn carries the lion’s share of the film’s action and urgency, he seems to allow Hopkins to dictate the basics of the character, from his hesitant dawdling to the hints of a sing-song Welsh intonation that characterize almost every character he plays , penetrates. Flynn essentially embodies a younger Hopkins, adapting his identity to Winton’s sincerity.
Johnny Flynn plays a young Winton.
Photo credit: See-Saw Films
However, with the two Wintons living on opposite sides of World War II, there is a clear difference between them that goes far beyond their physical appearance. Flynn’s eyes, for example, betray a sense of optimism and perhaps even naivety. Hopkins, on the other hand, seems constantly burdened by off-screen powers and memories. His eyes are so seductive that Hawes uses extreme close-ups of his gaze at the beginning of the film, while old Winton looks at old photos of some of the children he saved, perhaps wondering what became of them.
Hopkins’ version of the character also feels constantly torn, despite his calm and likeable demeanor. He seems to be in constant, quiet concern that his little part of the story is not widely known – even though he knows that if he makes it known, he runs the risk of spreading it about himself. There may be a slight divergence between Hawes and Hopkins here; The film, as written and shot, seems to portray Winton as almost supernaturally noble. His rejection of the spotlight is rooted in a down-to-earth humility that everyone around him seems to recognize. However, Hopkins’ performance is so penetrating and multifaceted that it practically transcends this simple approach. He’s so good at what he does that he almost destroys the film, or at least distorts it around him (editor Lucia Zucchetti follows suit, capturing Hopkins’ close-ups over long, introspective stretches as if she were his thoughts). read ).
As the camera and dialogue capture the surface of his conundrum – the idea that Winton doesn’t want to write this painful chapter about himself – Hopkins delves deeper into this decision, wrestling with it with every word, every look and every gesture. As a sort of delayed detonator, Winton’s decision to withhold information for so long is the reason the film’s 1980s timeline exists at all, and his desire to find the right ending or angle to the story is what creates it keeps history secret. Every time Winton behaves nobly or commendably, and every time he is complimented on it, Hopkins responds politely but with a lingering unease, as if humility were (at least in part) a mask he wears over something shamefully human.
In his public appearances, the real Winton never showed any desire for recognition, and Hopkins does not prefer to hold a real hero to account. However, the actor practically single-handedly saves the situation One life from the brink of hagiography by introducing delicate paradoxes into the character that turn each of his scenes and interactions into an emotional tightrope walk. It’s a must-see performance that’s comparable to his Oscar-winning role in The fatheras he prepares a meal of the subtle way an elderly gentleman who has seen countless horrors (and bottled them all) bristles at the thought of his inner contradictions or of them being thrust into the spotlight – Contradictions that only grow and ultimately fester.
One life takes an unexpected approach to a famous viral clip
Another central contradiction in One life is that of Winton’s German-Jewish identity, two parts of his history that had been buried and obscured at different points in time. In Prague, both come to the fore at the same time, between Jewish refugees who approach him with fear and caution because of his Germanic features, and a rabbi who explores his Jewish roots to find out whether he really wants to help – and if so, his Reasons.
The inherent irony of Winton’s heroism, as the rabbi points out, is that it would result in the separation of young Jewish children from their families and culture, an act that unintentionally aligns with the Nazi creed. “Don’t start what you can’t finish,” the rabbi tells him, translating it from Hebrew. Instead of a more tangible connection to Judaism, this stern advice will remain throughout his life Mantra, so much so that it stays with him decades after the war. After his conversation with the rabbi, rescuing refugees from Prague becomes not just an altruistic act, but a divinely inspired act – a sacred burden with no expiration date.
Living with this burden is what makes Winton so compelling in the 1980s portions of the film. It’s the film’s ultimate contradiction: the idea that without closure and self-forgiveness, he can’t rest because he’s incapable of doing more than is humanly possible. And when it comes time for him to take the spotlight and the events in the viral video clip make their way to the screen, they fail to achieve the sense of fairytale finality that it brings That’s life presents them. Instead, they appear jagged and uneven and rob the film of an otherwise perfect “happy ending,” as is the case with most award-winning films.
As expected, Hopkins delves shockingly deep into the character in the final act, allowing Winton’s guilt and grief to bubble to the surface. But even when he releases pent-up emotions, there is no cinematic catharsis that often follows such scenes. Instead of a crescendo, One lifeThe depiction of Winton’s famous clip feels like an open wound festering – a wound that cannot be easily healed by naked displays of emotion for public consumption. And so it feels more true to life than most cinematic depictions of war and its ongoing consequences, in a way that leaves the audience feeling uneasy and teary-eyed.
Throughout the film, Winton often claims that he wants people to learn from his story, and that too One life It takes a long time for it to seem remotely educational, and it does so in a particularly meaningful way: by making us bear the same burdens and uncertainty that he once did, with no end in sight.
One life was reviewed following its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.