One Life is the much-anticipated biopic of Sir Nicholas Winton, the man who saved 669 Jewish children through the Kindertransport project during World War II. He lived most of his life with his deeds unknown aside from the few he worked with. In 1988, the BBC series That’s Life featured his story in which as a member of the audience, he was regarded by a room full of adults later revealed to be those indebted to him. The feature stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as an elder Winton perusing through old documents and boxes of antics from his past life to clean up and prepare for the birth of his grandchild. He comes across the scrapbook containing photographs he took of his time in Prague and reminisces over the children. Johnny Flynn plays young Winton, arriving in Prague in the thick of the war and seeing the devastation it has inflicted on innocent and starving families. Both actors are brilliant: vulnerable, with an unyielding strength to do the right thing.
The film strongly focuses on reflection, specifically the guilt that Winton carries regarding the children he failed to save. He’s continually overcompensating with constant charity work and hoarding pieces of the past as reminders of what he lost. This is visually exhibited through symmetry and shots of reflection through mirrors, windows and transparent surfaces. The technique also uses this specific framing to transition from past to present and vice versa, a constant oscillation between the chaos that Winton faces at the time of war and his quiet elder life. The use of cameras and old photographs amplify the sentimental aspect of the story – the found memories, scraps of the past he refuses to let go of, old newspaper clippings and letters – as well as create a more visceral impact of the tragedy surrounding the children. One Life’s central theme is the idea of securing the future through kids – “save one life, save the world” – and it’s this conflict between past and present, what happened then and what happens now, that is the emotional driving force of James Hawes’ directorial debut.
What’s also very special about One Life is that, not only does it educate the viewers on the work of Winton, but also all other people involved in the project, from the influence of his mother played by Helena Bonham Carter, to the efforts and aid of Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp) and Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai), alongside the kind people who donated and offered homes to the children. In the current climate, with various wars taking place in different parts of the world and the passive helplessness people collectively feel, One Life is a reminder there are many good people out there willing to sacrifice and help out in any small way that they can. It’s a much-needed assertion that despite the overabundance of terrible things happening all around us, there will always be hope in humanity, in good people persistently coming together.
One Life is released nationwide on 1st January 2023.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for One Life here: