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Film: One Life
Cast:  Anthony Hopkins, Lena Olin, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Jonathan Pryce, Adrian Rawlins, Romola Garai
Director: James Hawes
Rating: 3/5
Runtime: 119 min

Holocaust stories are always gravitating and this one is more so because we’ve seen the great man on a television grab as one of the guests in the British Show “That’s Life.”An unsuspecting member of the audience, he was surrounded by grown men and women, who were Jewish kids he had rescued from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II. The clip had gone viral and people all over the world became privy to the great man’s exploits. Nicholas Winton is his name and the children he saved were known as “Nicky’s Children.”

“One Life” is based on that true story and dutifully follows the experiences of Nicholas Winton in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II. The story is now familiar but the act of heroism is not. That emotion charged moment on Television where he gets surprised by the children he rescued is also part of the dramatization here.

Director James Hawes and screenwriters Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake, say it like it was, following Nicholas as he goes back in time and recollects those critical moments during that very grim period in world history.

Nicholas Winton, a young British stockbroker was horrified by the conditions he witnessed on a trip to Czechoslovakia in 1938 and decided to get as many children out of the country as possible. His mother (Helena Bonham Carter) an indomitable German emigré who made England her home, helped collect donations from concerned British citizens and get co-operation from the British Government for visa etc. Winton was in touch with a group of aid workers on the ground in Prague in order to evacuate hundreds of children to foster homes in England.  A large chunk of the film is about the bureaucratic hurdles they experienced so much of the tension and drama is facile at best.

It’s only when the countdown to the inevitable appearance of the German army in Prague begins do we understand the importance of the evacuation and its timely nature. The children are at risk mainly because they are Jews living in Eastern Europe. The Nazi occupation was imminent and the rescue operations had to happen before the Nazis took control.

This is a straightforward telling with hardly any embellishment. We see an older Nicholas (Anthony Hopkins), it’s 1980’s and he is cleaning out his house and trying to find a proper home for his scrapbooks from the operation. He is not famous yet. No one knows him or  anything about his life saving efforts. Then the British television program That’s Life gets wind of his story, and the rest is history. Don’t expect any intrigue, mind games or dramatisations of dangerous moments. It’s just not there. It’s when the men and women in the audience reveal their identities and how grateful they are to Winton, that the tears come rolling down. That’s the real high-point of the film.

There may be a lack of drama but the narrative moves at a good clip with orchestrated help from Volker Bertelmann’s score. The tone is never heavy and the telling is straight from the heart. Stylistically, the film is understated yet effective. Hawes keeps the restraints on even during the tear-jerking climax. Hopkins’ performance is just right for this kind of a film. No overtures or blandishments – just small gestures aiding in developing affection and emotion. Like Hopkins, Bonham Carter also makes the most of her brief role. Hawes’ stays faithful to Winton’s idea of playing down his efforts. The final reveal is the crowning glory moment and it is sure to wring out waves of emotion.

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