One Life (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

James Hawes
Run Time
1 hour and 49 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

O Lord my God, in you I take refuge;
    save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
or like a lion they will tear me apart;
    they will drag me away, with no one to rescue…

O let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
    but establish the righteous,
you who test the minds and hearts,
    O righteous God.

Psalm 7:1-2, 9
Nicholas Winton, years after his part in bringing Jewsish children to the UK, is finally given recognition. (c) Bleecker Street

Almost exactly 24 years ago I reviewed the documentary Into the Arms of Strangers that told the story of the Kindertransport, a group of projects involving ten thousand Jewish children whom kind-hearted people were able to transport to England from Hitler-dominated Europe just before World War Two erupted. Director James Hawes’s, film straddling two time periods, focuses upon a small section of that all-too-brief movement and the man mainly responsible for its success. Based on the book If It’s Not Impossible by Barbara Winton, the daughter of our hero it could serve as a paeon to the goodness of the “the ordinary man.” And it leaves us teary eyed.

In the late 1980s Nicholas “Nicky” Winton (Anthony Hopkins) is a retired stockbroker living comfortably in England, but with some misgivings over the past that he was powerless to control. His wife Grete (Lena Olin) is after him to clean out the clutter in their home—there are numerous file boxes with lists of names and small photos of people. He does pile up some in the back yard and set them afire, but a large album of photos and names he keeps close to him.

From the Eighties we jump back to 1938 when a younger Nick (played by Johnny Flynn) in London is disturbed by the reports he has read of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. He travels to Prague where he meets Doreen (Romola Garai), Trevor (Alex Sharp), and Marta (Antonie Formanová) who have formed the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC) to help Jewish families who have fled Hitler’s Germany and Austria. Most of these people are living in tents and make-shift shelters affording little warmth against the winter cold. They are also often very hungry. Winton is horrified by their condition. To his question of why they cannot do more to get the people out of the country before Hitler takes over, they reply that it is impossible. He gives them a spirited answer and starts to work the phones to get help—if not for the adults, then at least for their children.

Young Winton holds a Jewish child while waiting for a train to arrive in Prague.                  (c) Bleecker Street

Winton’s mother Babette (Helena Bonham Carter) was once a Jewish German immigrant herself. She and her husband, to fit into British society, had altered their last names and converted to the Anglican Church. She is both smart and a person who will not take “No” for an answer from the bureaucrats she approaches for permission for the children to enter the country. She gets around one obstinate minor official by shaming him to live up to the qualities she had most admired in the English, decency, kindness, and respect.

Winton himself can only spend a couple of weeks in Prague before he has to return to his own land. He, and the Czech team know that the time they have to get the children out is brief, that Hitler will soon be sending his troops in to seize the country. Their obstacles are many—a 50-pound requirement for every child and British adults willing to give them room and board for an indefinite period.  They find that the newspapers are their willing allies, spreading news of the plight of the children to thousands of readers. Soon donations are arriving, and homes being volunteered.

In Prague the team works hard to convince the parents to give up their children to strangers. Some believe that they can survive a Nazi take-over. Eventually many are convinced, and the shipments of children and supervising adults begins, about 20 children at a time. Ironically, the trains carrying the children to their destination had to pass through Germany to reach the coast and transport to England. Eight transports were successful in getting through. A nineth started out, but it was September 1939, with Hitler’s forces invading Poland. The children were thus sent back, becoming lost amidst the violence of WW 2.

Despite being responsible for helping save 669 lives, the 79-year-old Winton feels guilty over those who could not be saved. He had not spoken with his family about his role in Kindertransport, and now wonders what to do with the records he has saved through the years. To make a long story short, his scrapbook asses through several hands until the team of the popular TV program That’s Life! obtains them, and they set him up for a surprise reunion with some of the survivors. This climax is one of the most emotional moments you are likely to see in a film this year, so be prepared.

The film title packs a double meaning. First, you will remember the statement from the Talmud, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Most Gentiles first heard this in ­Schindler’s List, which is engraved in the gold ring that “his Jews” present to him near the and of the film. And then we encounter it here, applied to another man who did so much to save the lives of others. Emerging from the quotation is the acknowledgment that one person can have a great impact on the world. A film of human goodness suitable for families with middle school-age children and up.


If you don’t have time to watch a feature film, then there is a 15-minute clip on YouTube from CBS’s Sixty Minutes that tells the story of this wonderful man. It includes clips from the BBC program that outed him as well as newsreel clips and comments by “his” children, now grown. Click here to view it.

This review will be in the April Issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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