One Life : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on March 14, 2024 in / No Comments


Rated PG by the MPA for thematic material, smoking, and some language. Running time: 110 minutes. Released by Bleecker Street (in the U.S.).

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, One Life, Bleecker StreetThe first I’d heard of Sir Nicholas Winton was in a clip from a show called “That’s Life!” someone posted on Facebook. An elderly man is told that he’s sitting next to a woman who was saved from the Nazis by him as a child. Further into the video, the host asks if anyone else was saved thanks to his efforts, and almost the entire studio audience stands. It’s enough to reduce one to tears, with this man finally seeing the grown children he once stuck on a train and hoped like hell they’d get out of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Director James Hawes enlists the help of a multigenerational, talented ensemble to take us through this gentle retelling of Winton’s story. One Life’s subject matter – the oncoming Nazi Occupation and the systematic extermination of German Jews, including children – is dark enough, and Hawes takes care not to push these horrors away while still holding a figurative lantern to keep the darkness from completely overtaking his film. That light is embodied by Johnny Flynn’s dedicated and dire performance as Nicholas Winton of 1938, a young stockbroker of the belief that “If it’s not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.”

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, One Life, Bleecker StreetFlynn exudes a Jude Law-esque affability that almost instantly spreads Winton’s goodwill around, from trying to obtain visas for these child refugees to meeting the brusque and capable Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai), the head of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC) whose boots are already on the ground amid what’s fast becoming a dire situation. Tent cities have popped up all over the country after the Munich Agreement – which gave the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany – was signed, affecting Winton with their scenes of distress and abject poverty. Calling upon the efforts of friends, family, strangers, and an entire country, Winton and the BCRC set about trying to get the children – most of whom were Jewish – out of the country and into British foster homes.

This isn’t an Oskar Schindler political hustle, where money greases the wheels of friend and foe alike; this is a straight-up evacuation, and the kids don’t know if they’ll ever see their parents or left-behind family members again. (Most of them did not.) And with each successive train trip from Prague to Britain, the danger rises, with Nazi troops coming aboard to check papers and possibly cotton onto the BCRC’s efforts. When we see the hammer come down on the day Germany invades Poland, Hawes allows us a brief glimpse of harrowing scenes in Prague before making our hearts ache with Winton’s waiting for a train that would never come.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, One Life, Bleecker StreetIntertwined with these urgent depictions of prewar Eastern Europe, Anthony Hopkins solidly holds down his portrayal of Winton as an elderly man, tasked with preparing his home for his soon-to-be-born grandchild. File boxes, mementos, photographs, and a leather briefcase marked “TC” that he touches as he putters around his home and office serve as prompts launching us into the past. Hopkins gives a reflective and pensive performance as Winton attempts to clear space in his home, but it’s not one dragged down by memories of the past; these memories serve as fuel for him, knowing that he’d done something good for humanity. The film’s more lighthearted moments come in this era, as Winton sees old friends and media personnel to try to get the story told; the second of two encounters with a certain newspaper editor gives the film a little levity and humor. While it doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere, considering how lovely Winton’s relationship with his wife Grete (Lena Olin) is portrayed, we might be feeling nervous about smiling a little bit during a movie about the early days of the Holocaust, but it’s an intentional moment Hawes inserts to make it okay to smile.

One Life – a title derived from the Talmud, which states “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” – is beautifully balanced, staying as warmhearted and gentle as it can without giving into despair. It asks us to come close to the line separating it from being “full-on gloom and doom,” but turns us away from it, trusting us to know what we know about the Holocaust and instead filling us with the hope of doing the right thing. There are fewer things darker than the murder of children, and James Hawes knowingly steers us toward the helpers, under the gun but putting themselves on the line for strangers they’ll never know. Hawes inspires us with this retelling of Sir Nicholas Winton’s tale, calling upon us to remember global evil and how we fought it, even if it was just getting children out of the way. You didn’t need to be a soldier; ordinary people could throw their hands into the fight, and One Life is a well-told example of a regular guy making a difference that will continue to resonate long past his time on Earth.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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