Review – One Life

Do you remember that moment when you first saw the viral clip of Nicholas Winton sitting in a TV studio audience, being told that the 669 Czech-Jewish children he saved were alive and thriving in the audience? They stand to their feet after being prompted by the TV host “Is there anyone who is here because of Nicholas Winton” the entire audience stands to their feet, Winton’s wife clutches his arm and he turns around and is completely speechless. I remember watching it on Tik Tok and being absolutely spellbound by this incredibly brave man and the lengths he went to, to save so many lives. That was the 1988 TV show That’s Life hosted by Esther Rantzen, which, after going viral and becoming a worldwide phenomenon, has been adapted into a full-length film, telling the story of how Winton achieved the seemingly impossible and the events that led up to this historic moment in British television.

This is the directorial debut from James Hawes, and the interesting choice to focus on the incredibly ordinary lives of the Wintons really puts into perspective how one person can start a chain reaction of events that can change the lives of many. This is of course helped by some brilliant performances from Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Flynn and a career-defining performance from Anthony Hopkins. The subject matter could easily have descended into the typical schlocky biopic territory instead a well-paced and emotional story helps guide this film to hit all the right notes, delivering something truly moving.

The film is played out in flashbacks from older Hopkins going through his old papers and coming to the full realisation of his actions’ monumental impact is fully realised through Hopkins performance. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his wife Grete Winton played by Lena Olin, as she slowly discovers the extent of her husband’s actions, as after the war it appears that he continued to lead a very normal life, continuing his office work and locking these memories and achievements away in a very overcrowded office.

So what exactly did Mr Winton do? He wanted to help the war efforts. In 1938, he took leave from his job as a stockbroker and travelled to Prague against his mother’s wishes and came face to face with the impossible situation the war refugees faced. With the knowledge that most of the children would not make it through the winter either due to the harsh weather conditions and hunger or being discovered by the ever-impeding Nazi soldiers. Winton met with some sceptical families and headed back to London to work on getting them all emergency visas and finding them homes to stay in with families in London who were keen to help. This was no easy feat; there is a lot of red tape with this sort of thing, and like in life, the key is finding the right person to plead your case to achieve the outcome. Winton isn’t alone however, he ropes in his mother Babette to help him. Being an immigrant herself, offers a sense of empathy to the situation and leads the charge to find the children homes. What works so well in this movie is it allows the quiet moments, the smaller ones to resonate and breathe, it really isn’t until the end of the film that you really start to understand the scope of what Winton did and how little he realised the impact it had. This is largely due to a catastrophic event that stunned my cinema screening into complete silence, that you could ever recover from such a tragedy.

One Life is a fantastic piece of filmmaking. It allows a series of events to come to the surface and really show how one person can start a flow on-effect, and when a community of people come together with a common goal, how much good it can do for the world, despite the large amount of obstacles in their way. Hopkins and his younger counterpart Flynn are mesmerising as Nicholas Winton. Their performances are in perfect harmony and do a good deal to expose Winton’s humanness. Flynn, in particular, as he uncovers the horror of what is happening in Prague and a lack of action from the local governments, is the highlight of the film. Carter’s take on an immigrant mother, dedicated to her successful son and “won’t take no for an answer” attitude is a delight to watch. To get such an incredible film from first time director Hawes is a gift and a sign of a truly talented filmmaker. One Life will warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity this holiday season.

One Life is in Australian cinemas December 26.

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Do you remember that moment when you first saw the viral clip of Nicholas Winton sitting in a TV studio audience, being told that the 669 Czech-Jewish children he saved were alive and thriving in the audience? They stand to their feet after being...Review - One Life