Most of us have a clear out of all that’s been shoved up into the loft but, unlike our Editor whose loft consists of dog eared back issues of razzle (‘You’re fired!’– Ed), One Life starts in 1987 with the retired octogenarian stockbroker Nicolas Winton (Anthony Hopkins) going through old documents, photographs and ephemera that’s of enormous consequence. Because it relates to the 669 children he saved from the Nazi concentration camps in 1938. It’s a device that instigates the flashbacks throughout the film to Winton as a younger man (Johnny Flynn) with Helena Bonham Carter as his tenacious mother resolutely determined to help her son as the world edges nearer to a second world war.
It’s his mum Babette Winton who initially tries to deter him from going to Prague but once he‘s there and meets the children living in the cold squalor he just can’t step away from it. An indicator that this is going to be a tear jerker starts when the children beginning to swarm around him as he tries to give each a piece of chocolate from a small bar he has on him. It is heartrending. From here though with his mum on board and berating officials in London to help her son Winton who, along with a local administrator Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai) they start to make arrangements to get the children to the UK and again the tear jerking image of the children’s hands waving what will inevitably be a final farewell to their parents left to face the invading Nazi’s is again one that any parent will find hard to resist.
There’s something of the British Schindler about the story which only came to light decades later with Winton, a modest and humble man without ego wanting to archive his documents for historic purposes, that the story came to light. Famously this was featured on BBC TV’s ‘That’s Life’ a consumer affairs programme on a Sunday night hosted by Esther Rantzen and co-presented by a pair of camp sidekicks behind a desk and Cyril Fletcher, a boss eyed geriatric sat in a leather Chesterfield reciting God awful newspaper puns. It’s little wonder that Babette Winton dismisses it a ‘such a silly show’. And yet every so often amongst the nonsense of talking dogs and doorstepping members of the public into tasting bat soup they did run features and campaigns and Winton’s story was one of them. Still able to be seen on YouTube the film recreates the moment where Winton sits in the front row of the audience not realizing that sat beside him is one of the children, now an adult, that he helped saved. It’s a moving moment but as nothing compared to the following week when he again is invited along only to find that the entire audience was made up of the children that had contacted the production team wanting to express their gratitude to the man who had effectively saved them from the Nazi war machine.
An actor of Hopkins stature always brings gravitas to his roles and in fairness he has lent it to some incomprehensible and shallow nonsense but of late he has taken roles in films of substance most recently The Father (winning his second Oscar) and The Two Popes and in that respect One Life is no different. Directed by James Hawes a stalwart of TV drama (and very good TV drama too) and this is his first feature film in a lengthy career but this is never really cinematic enough and plays better as a TV drama. Equally there’s never really enough of a sense of urgency to get the children out of Prague as the Nazis invade.
Low on sentimentality One Life plays its drama low key and a little bland but there’s no denying that Winton was the most humble and unassuming of men and yet was a hero never thinking he had done enough. For audiences the tears will flow.
related feature : Anthony Hopkins role in ‘The Son’
We chatted with director James Hawes about the making of One Life ……
Here’s the One Life trailer……