With the 85th Annual Academy Awards fast approaching, it’s especially interesting to look back over the history of the Oscars to see which Best Picture winners have held up over the years. In 1942, Mrs. Miniver took the top prize along with five other wins out of an impressive 12 total nominations. After screening Warner Brothers’ newly issued Blu-ray edition, I was left unmoved. This bizarrely inert film simply doesn’t stand out in a field of nominees that included Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and the memorable Lou Gehrig tribute The Pride of the Yankees. William Wyler was awarded the first of his three Best Director Oscars for Mrs. Miniver.
One obvious problem is the film’s length. The thin sketch of a plot can’t sustain the 133-minute running time. The story opens in England, 1939, with the country on the cusp of war. We meet most of the Miniver family in short order. Kay (Greer Garson, in an Oscar-winning performance) is the family matriarch. Her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) is an architect. Their youngest children are Toby (Christopher Severn) and Judy (Clare Sandars), while their eldest, Vin (Richard Ney), is away at Oxford University. Nice family, but there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about them.
So taken by the kind spirit of Kay, local horticulturist James Ballard (Henry Travers) has bred a new rose that he dubs “Mrs. Miniver.” He announces plans to compete with the flower at the annual Beldon Cup show. The competition is run by the upper class Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty), who practically has the show fixed in her favor every year. In fact, her granddaughter Carol (Teresa Wright, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) meets with the Minivers to help dissuade the inclusion of the “Mrs. Miniver” rose. Anyone other than her grandmother winning top honors would upset the social hierarchy.
The plot, if not the prosaic tone and pacing, takes a turn when England enters World War II. Vin, having returned from school, joins the Royal Air Force and joins the war effort. His relationship with Carol, unlikely at first given their vastly differing social statures, serves as the emotional high point of film. The Beldon Cup flower show drama might not be the most exciting subplot, but the mundaneness of Kay and her family’s daily dealings during wartime makes one almost wish it was the focal point. Not much actually happens (though there are a few admittedly impressive fighter jet crashes late in the film), which leaves Mrs. Miniver largely unfocused.
The new 1080p Blu-ray transfer offers a sterling presentation of Joseph Ruttenberg’s Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography. The image is clean and free of debris, but natural grain has not been sacrificed. The transfer is always appropriately film-like. Contrast and black levels are perfect. The past 71 years have been very kind to Mrs. Miniver from a visual standpoint. There’s less to say about the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack. It’s clean and never lacking in clarity. The audio is entirely satisfactory for a film of this age with a relatively simple mono mix.
Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of supplemental material, and what’s here is mostly unrelated to Miniver. The only thing not ported over from a previous DVD release is the Tex Avery cartoon Blitz Wolf, a ten-minute piece that recasts “The Three Little Pigs” in a World War II setting (with the Big Bad Wolf representing Hitler). There are two 20-minute WWII propaganda pieces, Mr. Blabbermouth! and For the Common Defense. The only piece directly related to Miniver is a one-minute excerpt of Greer Garson’s Oscar acceptance speech.
Mrs. Miniver will always have a place in movie history, thanks to its status as a Best Picture winner. It’s a time capsule piece, depicting a rather bland portrait of an English family doing their part for God and country during World War II. It’s that very blandness (including the inexplicably honored performance by Garson) that makes it a tough one to sit through.