Jan 6, 2024
Lucinda Coxon, Nick Drake
Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai
One of the simplest movie plots is the concept of good overcoming evil. Not necessarily the all-conquering superhero who jumps from the pages of a Marvel or DC comic; but a quiet, heroic individual who beats the odds and slips away when their work is done. One Life tells the story of a man rightly dubbed 'the British Schindler' and is a fitting tribute to the life of Sir Nicholas Winton. His daughter and biographer Barbara was strict regarding the terms of adapting his life story. Anthony Hopkins had to be cast in the role of Nicholas Winton. Her wish was duly granted as the twice Oscar winner performs with customary intelligence and flair.
The film begins in 1988 with Winton (Anthony Hopkins) now retired but still surrounded by shadows of the past. With well-placed flashbacks the narrative links past and present as a compelling tale takes shape. Back in 1938 a young Winton (Johnny Flynn) has a keen eye on international matters. The Munich Agreement is in tatters as Hitler prepares to invade Czechoslovakia. Winton joins a group dedicated to the care of refugees displaced by Nazi rule. He soon decides to rescue hundreds of mainly Jewish children trapped in Prague. With the help of his mother Babette (Helena Bonham Carter) he negotiates a mountain of bureaucracy to organise the kindertransport. Meanwhile back in Prague Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai) gamely struggles to get the children onto trains. The older Winton wonders what happened to the children he rescued and those he couldn't save. Subsequent events lead to the recognition that was long overdue.
Few films capture the cost of war more effectively than One Life. This is a rare feat as it portrays events before the war started. So the focus is on the symptoms and not necessarily the war itself. Director James Hawes manages to build two distinct stories that stand alone but also have a linear relationship. The imagery of Prague on the eve of war is vivid. This is in sharp contrast to the present and calm reflection of Winton in later years. Hopkins and Flynn are outstanding in their respective roles. In tandem they perfectly capture the essence of Nicholas Winton. A man who displayed courage and humility but still felt he could have done more. A testament to the human spirit and goodness we should all recognise.