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I Bet You Didn't See... One Life


I rarely review new releases, but I couldn't hold back on this one. If you don't want anything spoiled before going to see it, I'd recommend you stop now. But as it is now February, you've had a month and you've probably missed it in the cinemas!

The film tells the story of Sir Nicholas Winton (1909-2015), and his efforts in the Second World War to help citizens of Czechoslovakia (modern day Czechia) get their children out before war broke out. This happened in the weeks building up to September 1st, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and war declared.

Bonham Carter as Winton's mother, Babi

Sir Nicholas, along with his mother and a number of friends and acquaintances, organised funding, visas and foster homes for 669 Jewish children to be relocated from Czechoslovakia. It was an incredible undertaking, as the film portrays, and if was hadn't broken out when it did, that number would have been over 900. Winton's group were one of many working as part of what is known as the Kindertransport, which saw nearly 10,000 (ten thousand) children relocated from Nazi Germany to Great Britain.

Sir Anthony as Sir Nicholas

The film tells Sir Nicholas' life in two parallel lines. Anthony Hopkins plays Winton in his later years (the film set in 1985) as he decides to tell the story of his rescue mission. The fortieth year since the war ended has arrived, and there are news stories going around of the war and Winton struggles to get anyone to take his story. That is until his friend Martin Blake (Jonathan Pryce) shares it with his contacts and people start taking an interest. Sir Nicholas' story shares his story and finally meets some of the children he rescued.

Johnny Flynn as younger Nicholas Winton

Johnny Flynn stars as Winton as a young man in 1939. His mother (Bonham Carter) helps him arrange funding and organise publicity for the foster homes for the children. Along with friends already in Czechoslovakia collecting the children and getting them onto trains through Europe to England, they work hard and fast until the final moment when the declaration of war stops it being possible to get more children out.

The film is shot beautifully, with a crisp, clear and quiet feel when we are following the 1985 story, while the wartime story is coloured with a delicate sepia tint to it. Both are in stark contrast to each other, being busy, loud and chaotic at times in the wartime scenes, while 1985 reflects how Sir Nicholas' life is now peaceful and family focused.

My favourite part of the film is when Winton is trying to get information on the vulnerable families and turns to a local Rabbi in Prague, who reluctantly gives him what he is looking for. The Rabbi says to Winton:

If you start this, you have to finish it.

A philosophy that Sir Nicholas takes on and repeats later in the film in a line that Sir Anthony delivers with great subtlety.

Hopkins is superb again. Down to earth, quiet and gentle, he gets on with life with the memory of 1939 always at the forefront of his mind, he plays Sir Nicholas with an elegant and humble grace. Johnny Flynn brings out the passion and desperation to help and get things done brilliantly, but when things are a success, you can see that same humbleness. He sets out to do it and finishes it as best he can. The film, and real story, brings that philosophy to the forefront.

Sir Nicholas died at 106

The ending is very powerful. I won't share what happens, but although I knew what happened I was still very emotionally moved by it. Hopkins' emotions are clear and make it all the more powerful.

I fully believed that this is a film that should have been a contender for both Best Picture, and Hopkins should be in contention to win his third Academy Award. Sadly, this was not the case. That won't take away from anything about this film.

You can read more about the Kindertransport mission here, at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust's website.

Directed by: James Hawes

Screenplay by: Lucinda Coxon, Nick Drake

Based on: "If It's Not Possible... The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Olin

Released: January 1st, 2024

My Rating: 9/10

It is believed that approximately 6000 people are alive today because of Sir Nicholas Winton's efforts.

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