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March 15, 2024 / VVS Films

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Olin

Directed By: James Hawes

ONE LIFE tells the true story of Sir Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Winton, a young London broker (Johnny Flynn), who, along with Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp) and Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai) of the British Committee for Refugees in Czechoslovakia, rescued 669 children from the Nazis in the months leading up to World War II.

Fifty years later, it’s 1988 and Nicky (Anthony Hopkins) lives haunted by the fate of the children he wasn’t able to bring to safety in England; always blaming himself for not doing more. It’s not until a live BBC television show, ‘That’s Life!’, surprises him by introducing him to some surviving children – now adults – that he finally begins to come to terms with the guilt and grief he had carried for five decades.

Written By Kurt

Rating 3 out of 5

Since its premiere last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, I have been looking forward to watching director James Hawes’ One Life. It earned rave reviews here in Toronto, primarily thanks to its powerhouse performance from Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins and seemed primed to be another vehicle that would earn Hopkins another Best Actor nomination.

Based on the book If It’s Not Impossible…: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton by Barbara Winton, One Life tells the incredible, emotional true story of Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Winton, played magnificently by Johnny Flynn and Anthony Hopkins over two separate timelines in the movie, who was a young London broker who visits Prague in December 1938. With a looming Nazi Invasion plaguing the country like an incoming storm, Nicky along with two fellow Brits attempt to rescue and save hundreds of predominantly Jewish children before Nazi occupation.

Based on a screenplay by Lucina Coxon and Nick Drake, One Life is admittedly very formulaic in its writing - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing - but feels very wikipedia in its execution. I found the script to be very vignette-esque when it came to the scenes in Prague, as we find the clock ticking against the noble group of Brits who attempt to push back against their British immigration laws and processes in order to get hundreds of Jewish children to safety. With a runtime of 110 minutes, along with its jumping timeline storytelling, I didn’t feel like I got enough about the effort, heroism and dedication to this cause, because the film feels very rushed at times, and although featuring a wonderful supporting cast of Romola Garai, Alex Sharp and the always reliable Helena Bonham Carter, the 1938 timeline gives those three some screen time yet never feels like it utilizes their acting capabilities because of the predictability of its writing.

I was committed to learning about the pushback and trials these real life heroes hurdled over, yet at times it felt more focused on the Anthony Hopkins aspect of the film and the eventual tear-jerker climax it was leading up to. Having known the outcome of both the mission and the films eventual third act, I understood why the writing veered in that direction, but a story like this one feels important to tell and sometimes a slower approach is a better approach.

As mentioned, the film bounces between 1938 Prague pre-World War 2 and 1987 London, where Nicky (Hopkins) is now an old man having difficulty coming to terms with letting pieces of his rescue mission go. Hopkins, as with any role, is the heart and soul of the film and has not missed a step since his Oscar winning performance in The Father back in 2020. Although he has been in seven films since The Father, this is another shining example of the reliable leading man we have come to know and love over the last five decades on film. Hopkins still commands your attention when he is on the screen, and as we see Nicky’s ability to come to terms with the losses he endured during his mission, we also share the victories he had in Prague all thanks to Hopkins acting prowess. I genuinely could not see anyone else playing this role.

Although the shaky screenplay comes off as a TV movie at points, One Life is a beautifully told story that will make even the hardest of hearts emotional. Nicholas Winton’s bravery and altruism is ripe for the cinematic experience and his story is so intrinsically captivating and harrowing that it will set you off on an emotional rollercoaster so I strongly recommend bringing some tissues. Hopkins can do no wrong in my eyes and it is wonderful to see such a commanding performance once again from the 86 year old.

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