Review: ‘One Life’

Anthony Hopkins And Johnny Flynn Are The "British Schindler" In Moving, Well-Told Wartime Drama

They call him the “British Schindler.” It’s doubtful that many in the U.S. have heard of Nicholas Winton, I certainly hadn’t before the stirring, well-crafted biopic One Life. But with a pair of soulful performances by Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Flynn, both playing Winton at various points in his life during wartime and long after, some may be inspired to learn more about one of the unsung heroes in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Directed with efficiency and care by John Hawes, One Life centers on prominent British stockbroker Nicholas Winton. The film takes place in two different time periods. In the ’80s, Winton (Hopkins) is in happy retirement, until uncovering a scrapbook that detailed the 669 children, most of them Czech Jews, that he helped rescue from the Nazis in the 1930s. It took a herculean effort by Winton (played by Flynn during this period) and other activists willing to risk their lives. One of those was his mother, Babette, played with firebrand fury by Helena Bonham Carter, who helped do the hard behind-the-scenes that often goes overlooked. Money was hard to come by and needed to be raised, transport needed securing, the hands of government officials needed greasing, and so much more. On a journey to Prague, Winton would also encounter economist-turned-humanitarian Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai), and talk about someone whose own story could power a totally separate movie. Just the little bit we see of her here is fascinating, but there is so much more.

Hawes, a TV veteran making his feature directing debut, tells the story with workmanlike style. The actual mission itself, in which nine trainloads of children pass through suspicious, gun-toting Nazis, is incredibly tense even if we know the ultimate outcome. Winton’s story and the accomplishment are incredible, but the film is rather ordinary by biopic standards, and told in a straight-forward approach with few frills. This is most prominent in the latter section of the film, when Winton tries to draw attention to this unappreciated act of bravery, only to find few willing to engage with it. We should be driven to astonishment and frustration, but the screenplay doesn’t demand much from the viewer but to go along with the ride. However, it’s Hopkins, in what is quietly one of the best performances he’s had in years, who breaks our hearts when Winton is finally recognized on episodes of the British talk show That’s Life!, attended by an audience of those he either rescued or their surviving families. Schindler’s List will always be the measuring stick for this type of film, and perhaps it will have more of an impact overseas than it does here. But One Life is told with sincerity and expertly acted by a tremendous cast, doing justice to a story that, like Winton himself, was long overdue for praise.

One Life opens in theaters on March 15th.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
One Life
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-one-lifeThey call him the "British Schindler." It's doubtful that many in the U.S. have heard of Nicholas Winton, I certainly hadn't before the stirring, well-crafted biopic One Life. But with a pair of soulful performances by Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Flynn, both playing Winton...