Hopkins Leads Great Cast In Powerful ‘One Life’

Nicholas Winton is an ordinary person. That’s how he describes himself and the efforts he and his colleagues are undertaking. It’s 1938, a month after Kristallnacht, and less than a year until Germany invades Poland when there is no longer any pretense about Hitler’s intent.

Winton, a London stockbroker, is invited to come to Prague at the urging of a friend who is an associate of the British Committee For Refugees From Czechoslovakia and is compelled to act after seeing refugee camps (created by the German annexation of the Sudeten regions under the Munich Pact) overflowing with families, and in particular children in the streets, dying of disease and starvation. The operation of the Committee – to evacuate as many (mostly) Jewish unaccompanied minors to the safety of temporary foster parents in England as they can while the specter of doom hangs over everything – is nothing short of extraordinary.

Based on the book One Life: The True Story Of Sir Nicholas Winton by Barbara Winton, the film One Life tells of this time via flashback, with Anthony Hopkins (in an unshowy, quietly moving portrait) portraying Winton circa 1988. A kindly man with a placid-seeming surface, Winton closely studies old black-and-white photos of children, tormented with what to do with a trove of treasured keepsakes from the anguished days he spent in Prague. The precious cargo is a scrapbook containing letters, documents and photos of the children the young Nicky (an almost unrecognizable Johnny Flynn, bringing heart and warmth to the role) and Committee workers Doreen Wariner (Romola Garai), and Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp) were able to save from certain death at the hands of the encroaching Nazis a half-century earlier.

They’re able to set their monumental plan in motion with the skillful assistance of Nicky’s fearsome mother Babi (Helena Bonham Carter, giving a steely powerhouse performance), a one-time German Jewish refugee herself who clearly has instilled an abiding moral core in her son. She affectingly speaks of how meaningful it was to her family that England had shown her such mercy 30 years earlier, and strongarms the initially indifferent immigration officials into providing the necessary funds to expedite the critical passports for the children.

The movie doesn’t offer much of an explanation for why Winton makes this operation his mission. That may leave audiences dissatisfied, but that misses the point. Winton – of Jewish descent but an admitted agnostic baptized by the Anglican Church – would have said the answer, such as the one he gave to a puzzled and curious rabbi, was obvious. Like so many, he was unable to stand by and do nothing when he could do something, even if it was to keep just a single person alive.

Czechoslovakia suffered tremendous losses during the Holocaust at the hands of the Reich, which murdered 15,000 of their children. But the Committee saved 669 young souls and today, approximately 6,000 people are alive as a result of those incredibly dangerous heroics. The world might never have learned of what Winton and the brave Committee members did if he hadn’t finally shared their story 50 years later. One Life honors them, those who perished and those who were saved.

‘One Life’ is currently in Cincinnati Theaters. Check Listings for Theaters and Showtimes