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Movie Review: ‘One Life’ impossible not to be moved, J.P. Devine writes

Preface: In James Hawes’ film “One Life,” the host of a 1988 episode of a BBC news show asks if there is anyone in the audience who was one of this film’s children or a relation of them, and if they are, to please stand up.

One by one, all members of the audience rise to their feet. Nicholas Winton, his wife Grete next to him, is overcome with shock and emotion. It’s almost impossible not to be moved.

This is the story behind Hawes’ new film that opens tomorrow in Waterville. It stars the superb and celebrated British actor Anthony Hopkins. No other actor comes to mind who might have played the part.

Based on a nonfiction book, “If It’s Not Impossible … the Life of Sir Nicholas Winton,” that was written by Nicholas Winton’s daughter, Barbara Winton, with the screenplay written by Lucinda Coxon (“The Danish Girl”) and Nick Drake (“Romulus, My Father”).

“One Life” gives us this true and incredible story about the actions of a simple man in a time of impending doom.

This “simple” man, wearing glasses and carrying a briefcase instead of a gun, comes running when the world is on fire.

History is full of such people. This is Nicholas Winton’s place in that lineup.

Our “One Life” hero is a young stockbroker in 1938 London named Nicholas “Nicky” Winton.

In flashbacks to 1970s England, we meet Nicholas Winton as an aging man in safe comfort with his wife Grete (Lena Olin).

Soon we meet the younger Nicholas Winton (Johnny Flynn, “Stardust”), in Czechoslovakia in the first of the dark days of 1938-39.

A group of people, of whom Nicholas Winton, young and bespectacled, becomes their leader, and with other simple ordinary Czechs and the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, joins Doreen (Romola Garai) and Trevor (Alex Sharp) to organize a program to evacuate 669 children, largely Jewish, from Czechoslovakia to “temporary” foster families in Britain.

Throughout the story, we watch Nicholas Winton’s mother, Babi (another beautiful job by Helena Bonham Carter), join the mission from England.

Nicholas Winton’s briefcase reveals a folder with pictures of the children in quickly gathered passports.

In the gray light of one afternoon, we watch parents, their eyes blank and filled with darkness, standing on the train’s platform waving goodbye, their fate sealed, as a grey cloud of German soldiers slowly approaches.

Hawkes’ film, beautifully done with not a frame wasted, gives us a wonderful cast, especially with the addition of Jonathan Pryce as Martin Blake, Nicholas Winton’s 1938 partner. Pryce costarred with Hopkins in the Netflix film “The Two Popes.” Others among the cast include Tim Steed, Mathilda Thorpe, Romola Garai and Alex Sharp as aides. Cinematographer Zac Nicholson’s magic lens never misses the small moments that build the light up around Hawes’ work.

Try to remember that Volker Bertelmann’s beautiful score is one of the important reasons you’re weeping — the Oscars of 2025 will.

“One Life” may be set aside by some as a “tear-jerker.” Pity. You may well find yours left behind on your seat.

But in these times, when we are forced to watch today’s human beings escaping the darkness in the Gaza sand, and others holding small children as they wade through garbage, across a dark river, and huddle by fences and barbed wire in the shadow of Liberty’s statue, Hawkes film reminds us to take care.