Review: the film ‘One Life’

Thank you to committee member Tony Brewer, who has provided a very interesting review of this film.

One of the common features of the many descriptions of Humanism is our belief that this life is the only life we have and that we can achieve our happiness by helping other people achieve theirs.

This belief provides the foundation on which the film One Life is built. It tells the story of Nicholas Winton, a young English stockbroker who, in 1938 while on holiday in Prague, realised that many mainly-Jewish families, and particularly their children, were mortally threatened by the imminent arrival of the Nazis. He set about organising refugee trains to take some of the children to England, and persuading or bullying the authorities into accepting them and finding foster homes for them here. He managed to send eight trainloads before the Nazis arrived and stopped him, rescuing a total of 669 children. This story remained untold for 50 years until, in 1988, Winton appeared in the TV show That’s Life hosted by Esther Rantzen.

The film portrays Winton, played by Anthony Hopkins, as a grumpy 79-year old clearing papers from his study and finding the scrap book in which he collected memorabilia of the rescues. This triggers flashbacks to the pre-war action, with the younger Winton played by Johnny Flynn. Perhaps inevitably, the writers and director squeeze the story for as much emotional impact as possible and the film is a bit smaltzy. It has also been criticised for over-emphasising the role played by Winton and neglecting the part played by others, particularly Doreen Warriner and Trevor Chadwick who stayed in Prague with their lives under threat. In reality Winton was always very modest about his achievements, regretting that he hadn’t done more and emphasising the part played by the others in the team. He was knighted by the Queen in 2003 for services to humanity and died, aged 106, in 2015.

One Life tells a story worth telling and is a film worth seeing. Winton never described himself as a humanist – his family were in fact Jewish refugees from Germany who converted to Christianity, but the film certainly shows humanist philosophy in action.

You can watch the trailer of the film on youtube.