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Release Date(s)1942 (January 8, 2013)
Studio(s)Warner Home Video
Released in 1942, William Wyler’s war propaganda-laden family drama Mrs. Miniver may not hold up well to audiences today, but respect must be given to a very well-made film that won many awards after its initial release.
This review is going to be slightly spoiler-ish, so if you haven’t seen the film and want to be kept in the dark, you might want to wait before reading it. Also, I’m probably going to be taken to task for my opinion of this film by someone at some point I’m sure, but I’m going to state it anyway, so bear with me (it’s not all negative). Initially, Mrs. Miniver was a bit hard to get into, on a character-relation level. Everything is serene to the point of nausea, and the characters don’t seem to have any flaws. It doesn’t help that they’re a part of a slightly upper class family. Most would describe them as middle class, and perhaps that might have been the way of things in England in those days, but times have changed and they come off more as more aristocratic and well-to-do. I find it difficult to relate to a group of people who are being waited on by butlers and maids most of the time. There is an attempt in the beginning to make them a bit more relatable, with both heads of the household going out and buying expensive material items without the approval of the other, but it doesn’t feel all that genuine. And it doesn’t matter, because it didn’t break the bank for them anyway and neither of them were angry at other about it. I know that it’s more of an attempt to establish the characters before the real meat of the story comes in, but the inner workings of it made me feel detached from it. If it had been the same story, but about a low income family instead, I might have been drawn into a little more.
Mrs. Miniver herself is being built up as a strong female character, so it’s a bit of a feminist piece in a lot of ways, but it never quite hits the mark either. The film also seems to be building towards a tremendous amount of tragedy. The point of the story, as I thought I was understanding it, was how families are torn apart due to the horrors of war, but it never really works out that way. Sure they lose a couple of friends and a close relative in the process, but the tension that’s being built up from scene to scene feels pointless and directionless most of the time, mainly because none of the primary characters die at any point. The film ends up being about how these people deal with the war as it inches closer and closer to their front door. Now I can’t sit here and pretend to understand what going through a war would be like. After all, we’re only talking about a film here, but from a character motivation stance, no one is affected that deeply by the experience, and therefore, a lot of drama that could have been there wasn’t.
Now, despite my problems with it, why would I give it a positive rating? Well, for starters, there are some fine performances in the film. Not just from Greer Garson, but from several members of the supporting cast, as well. The cinematography is also great. This is actually one of the most well-photographed black and white films I think I’ve ever seen. I also liked the very tiny moments of acting, which felt genuine and real for the situation. For instance, Walter Pidgeon waking up in the middle of the night to answer the phone. When he does, his voice cracks and he has to clear his throat before trying to speak again. It’s a very real-life moment, and there are many moments like that sprinkled throughout the film. It’s just unfortunate that this film was made during the Production Code era and that Mrs. Miniver and her husband sleep in separate beds. But on the whole, it’s an impressive movie for its time. It just doesn’t hold up quite as well as it should today.
The Blu-ray for the film features an extremely good video transfer. Film grain is even and completely blemish-free to my eyes. The film appears march sharper with an extraordinary amount of image detail, and contrast is just perfect. Like I said previously, this is a gorgeous black and white film, and this transfer does the film an enormous amount of justice. The audio isn’t quite as impressive, however. You get six mono tracks to choose from: English DTS-HD; French, German, Italian and Spanish (2 separate dialects) in Dolby Digital. The DTS track is decent enough, but the decibel level seemed to be too low, at least on my system. The thick British accents can be difficult to discern at times and a low volume level doesn’t help very much. I really had to crank it up to hear everything properly, which didn’t work well when some of the louder portions of the film kicked in later on (airplanes, bombs, etc). For a mono soundtrack, it does pack a lot of thump in the latter areas, but it winds up being more distorted than anything, especially if you have to crank up the volume like I did. It’ll get you through it, but I think some work could have been done to level it out a bit better. There are also subtitles in English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish (two again) and Korean.
The extras are a bit sparse, but they’ll get the job done, I suppose. There’s a 1942 Academy Awards Newsreel; a vintage cartoon entitled Blitz Wolf, two World War II-Era shorts (Mr. Blabbermouth! and For the Common Defense); and the film’s theatrical trailer. Missing from the previous DVD release of the film is a photo gallery. So yeah, there’s not much to the extras, but at least they had the decency to include something. I personally would have liked to hear more about the differences between the novel and the film, and gone into more detail about the actual making of the film, but oh well. It’s still a very good presentation of a mostly good film, even if it doesn’t hold up that well.
- Tim Salmons