Today: May 23, 2024

One Life

Perhaps the most moving part of Nicholas Winton’s story – now immortalised on screen in a wonderful dual performance by Johnny Flynn and Anthony Hopkins – is how this incredible, courageous man sought no glory or thanks for what he did. For almost fifty years, his remarkable humanitarian accomplishments remained unknown partly due to his own decision of secrecy due to personal regrets. But his work was enormous – Winton assisted in the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II. His incredible, inspiring achievement is given the cinematic treatment in this touching film from James Hawes.

Hawes’ background in TV is evident in One Life – his film debut is a little pedestrian behind the camera. The film often feels more like a Sunday night BBC Drama, and here is a larger-than-life story that perhaps deserved a little more oomph in its filmmaking. But on the other hand this simple approach can work in its favour, allowing the story and the performances to shine. An perhaps Winton wouldn’t have wanted anything too showy, anyway.

Anthony Hopkins delivers yet another flawless performance as the elderly, guilt-ridden Winton who laments that he could not save more. Flynn is the young Winton, putting himself in incredible danger to save young lives following a visit to Czechoslovakia in 1938 as World War II looms. The story conclude with Winton’s now-iconic appearance on That’s Life! in 1988, where this great man’s achievements were finally recognised as he reunited with some of the people he saved.

Despite the somewhat uninteresting direction, it is impossible not to be moved by One Life. Comparison to Schindler’s List are inevitable – indeed, Winton was dubbed “the British Schindler” following the discovery of his accomplishments. But One Life is a far more understated film with equal focus on the years following our hero’s courageous achievements. It is a character study though-and-through, dealing heavily with themes of regret and memory – wonderfully performed by Hopkins. Johnny Flynn is equally deserving of praise, though, as is the ever-wonderful Helena Bonham Carter as Babi Winton.

One Life is a deeply important and timely film about bravery and standing up against hate and injustice. It is a film about war, but moreso a film about kindness and humanity. With incredible performances and an enormously inspiring subject, One Life overcomes the hurdles of its underwhelming filmmaking and delivers an emotional viewing experience.

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