FILM REVIEW — Anthony Hopkins lives “One Life” brilliantly

Published 12:02 am Friday, March 15, 2024

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“One Life”

BBC Films

Directed by James Hawes

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Lena Olin and Helena Bonham Carter

Rated PG

3 Stars

“One Life” is the new biopic about Sir Nicholas Winton, a man who helped save hundreds of children in the days leading up to World War II.

“One Life” isn’t a very flashy film, with basic production design and a by-the-numbers screenplay. Yet the movie works despite these middling elements because sometimes a great story is all that is needed to make a truly affecting movie.

OK, a great story plus superb acting performances, headlined by none other than acting legend, Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Hopkins stars as Winton in his later years, but “One Life” begins with Johnny Flynn playing the younger version of the man who visited Prague in 1938.

He was moved by the plight of the thousands of refugee children who had poured into the city in advance of an anticipated Nazi invasion. Winton realized that most of these children would die unless he could get them out of the country, so he formed the British Committee for Refuges from Czechoslovakia.

The idea was to evacuate the children to England where they would be temporarily housed with British families.

Flash forward to the present (well, the 1980s) and the older Winton is sitting in the audience of the TV show, “That’s Life!” The host recognizes Winton and introduces him to the woman sitting next to him.

She turns out to be one of the 669 children that he’d saved from almost certain death in a Nazi concentration camp.

This real-life event proves to be the emotional climax of the movie, but “One Life” succeeds despite its less showy build up.

Young Winton isn’t one to make a fuss, so he spends his time working back in England where he and his mother (Helena Bonham Carter) put relentless pressure on the government officials they need if they are going to bring all of these children into Great Britain.

There’s a delightfully funny scene where a feckless bureaucrat tries to explain that there’s no possible way to issue visas for these children in such a short amount of time, only to wilt under the stare of a woman determined to bend the government to her will.

It’s a rare moment of humor in a film that is mostly serious in its tone. In truth, “One Life” might have benefitted from a few more moments like this, as the film struggles to build momentum in its early scenes.

Still, the threat of Nazis always adds a sense of foreboding, and even as Winton was known for keeping his emotions in check, there are a few sobering scenes where he gives into grief remembering all of the children that he couldn’t save.

“One Life” is a powerfully affecting movie because of these moments, although it also helps that the filmmakers cast some of the most photogenically haunting child actors imaginable.

Yet ultimately, the film lives and dies with Hopkins’ performance. Predictably, the actor is wonderful once again.

“One Life” won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it deserves to be seen if only because it’s a rousing tale of everyday humanity standing up for what’s right. The fact that it’s based on a real-life story only makes it that much more powerful.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia. Sean welcomes your comments via email at