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On the Screen: ‘One Life’, a polished retelling of the story of some real-life heroes

One Life

DAVID ADAMS watches ‘One Life’…

One Life (AU – PG)

In a word: Sobering

One Life

Anthony Hopkins stars as Sir Nicholas Winton in ‘One Life’

The role Sir Nicholas Winton played in rescuing hundreds of Jewish children from Czechoslovakia shortly before the outbreak of World War II still isn’t one that’s widely known.

One Life sets to out to correct that with a polished retelling of the role he and others played in saving the lives of those children from what was almost certain death if they’d remained.

“Director James Hawes doesn’t rush the story but allows it to unfold organically. Nor does it lean on brutal violence to get its message across, although that’s very much in the backgrouund hroughout the film. “

The story of what took place in those pre-war years is told through flashbacks – the movie opens in the late 1980s, 50 years after the events of the late 1930s and Sir Nicky (played by Anthony Hopkins) is now living in retirement at his home in Maidenhead in England. But, challenged by his wife Grete (Lena Olin) to clean out his home in preparation for the arrival of a new grandchild, he’s forced to confront his past and, in doing so, finds a new impetus to tell the story of what happened.

Meanwhile, back in 1938, the young Winton, a London stockbrocker (Johnny Flynn), is stirred by events taking place in Czechoslovakia following the Nazi seizure of the Sudentenland (those parts of Czechoslovakia where German-speakers lived). So much so that he decides to take a week off work and head to Prague to see how he can help.

It’s while there working with the British Committee for Refugee’s Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai) and Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp), that he sees firsthand the plight of the refugees pouring into Prague against the backdrop of a pending Nazi invasion and decides to transport as many of the most vulnerable children as he can to safety in England where they can be housed with foster families until it’s safe for them to return home.

To do that Nicky needs the help of his formidable mother Babette (Helena Bonham Carter) who, while he and others prepare the children in Prague, must face down the British bureaucracy to ensure the scheme works in a race against time.

Director James Hawes doesn’t rush the story but allows it to unfold organically without resorting to sensationalism. Nor does it lean on brutal violence to get its message across, although that’s very much in the backgrouund throughout the film.

This story depends on the authenticity of character and the cast – particularly Hopkins, Flynn, Garai and Bonham Carter – don’t disappoint in that regard.

Sir Nicholas’ story (the real Sir Nicholas Winton died in 2015) is as resonant today as it was in the late 1930s and is one which certainly deserves the wider audience this film will hopefully bring it to. It’s a fitting tribute to some modern day heroes to whom so many owe so much.

‘One Life’ opens in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day.


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