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  • Colin Fraser


THREE AND A HALF STARS Nicholas Winton believes he did very little in life. Others see him as a war hero.


Starring Antony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn

This compelling film gains extra resonance given geo-political circumstances on its release. Yet any story that wades boots deep into the holocaust should make a splash - after all, it’s not exactly uncovered ground. ONE LIFE is more of a ripple in this pond. That said, Anthony Hopkins (THE FATHER) gives one of his better performances by withholding much of the showmanship he’s known for and in doing so, brings to vivid life a relatively unknown hero of the resistance.

Hopkins the actor stands aside to present Nicholas Winton in the latter years of his life (he would die aged 106), a man who’d achieved so much yet still felt he had done so little. Hopkins channels Winton’s unwavering modesty who, when side-swiped on a chat show, became a household name and unwitting national hero. His performance is made memorable because of its simplicity, one stripped of the tricks and mannerisms that populate his work. It’s so much better for it.

While Hopkins anchors the current timeline, ONE LIFE spends an equal amount with Winton the younger (Johnny Flynn), a spirited man who saved hundreds of Czechoslovakian children from Nazi camps simply because he could. More so because he didn’t believe there was another option. Winton meets his calling when visiting a rights organisation led by Romola Garai and is supported in his quest by locals and those at home in London, notably his non-nonsense mother (Helena Bonham Carter), herself a survivor.

The first two acts of this perfectly adequate film are pretty much by the numbers, watchable but without an edge of distinction. Flynn, Garai, Bonham Carter and to some degree Hopkins are all serviceable in building and shaping the narrative: we must all stand up to the bad guys, especially when the bad guys are really bad. It’s the sort of thing made by any streaming service, a film that would’t ruin your night but nor would it set it alight. A ripple, not a splash.

The payoff is in the third act now that Winton has finally decided it’s time to share documents that detail his work (for historical rather than egotistical reasons it should be noted). They come to the attention of the chat show and in what first lands like a cheap piece of TV theatrics develops into something surprisingly honest and emotional as Winton finally comes to realise he did do something remarkable after all. 

So while ONE LIFE won’t set awards season alight, it’s compelling throughout with a finale (thanks mostly to Hopkins) that’s both truly rousing and heart-warming. Any story that encourages us to look beyond ourselves and extend a hand in friendship deserves attention, especially when it’s about a man who never saw any other option.

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