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ONE LIFE | United Kingdom | 2023 | 110m | English


Starring:  Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Olin

Directed By: James Hawes

In 1938, Nicholas Winton (Sir Anthony Hopkins) was a mild-mannered British stockbroker who became increasingly unsettled by the news of what was happening in continental Europe. After a spur-of-the-moment decision to join friends in Prague to help a growing number of refugees, his life — and the lives of hundreds of Jewish children facing the threat of Hitler’s regime — changed forever. Resolving to take whatever action he could, Winton returned to London and conscripted his indefatigable mother, Babette (Helena Bonham Carter) for what would become years of fundraising and fighting bureaucracy in order to begin transporting children to safety in the UK.

Sir Anthony Hopkins masterfully portrays the deeply humble and almost-anonymous Winton of the 1980s. When his ever-patient wife Grete (Lena Olin) asks him to declutter his office, Nicholas uncovers the long-buried folders and notes that hold the many names of all the children he saved, sparking memories of his wartime efforts. We then follow the younger Nicky, played by Johnny Flynn (Clouds of Sils Maria, TIFF ’14), in his sincere and rallying race against an impending war.

Nicholas' scrapbook triggered a series of events that culminated in the long-delayed celebration of his life-saving achievements when the BBC invited him to a television program that made him an icon of compassion. His story resonates in our time, as we continue to grapple with war, refugee crises, and growing antisemitism. One Life is a moving portrait of the drive to serve in times of strife and a timeless reminder of our ability to make a difference.

TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

RATING  4 out of 5

One Life is more than just a movie as the heroic efforts of Nicholas Winton in the months before the outbreak of World War II are portrayed on screen, highlighting an incredible true story led by a trio of excellent performances that is certain to move audiences to tears.


Most films that focus Jewish people during the Second World War tell the story of either their hiding from the Nazis or the treatments in the concentration camps. What makes One Life stand out from other films is that while still covering the same subject matter explored in within that genre, is that it follows the efforts of one man, Nicholas Winton, and his efforts to save Jewish children from being taken from the Nazis in the months before the outbreak of the war, known as Kindertransport. It’s a truly remarkable story that is captured beautifully in the feature film debut of James Hawes, after working for years as a television director, creating one of the most unforgettable and emotional films to have hit the festival circuit this past fall that will leave not a single dry eye in the theatre.


The heroism of Nicholas Winton and all those who helped him in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War evacuating hundreds of Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia is ripe for the big screen, as it is an unbelievable and amazing story that needs the world needs to be reminded of or introduced to. Told in two different time periods, the film follows a young Nicholas Winton as he helps the Jewish children escape the Nazis, and an older Nicholas as he reflects back on his deeds upon a renewed interest in his story by the BBC. The screenplay does a wonderful job of balancing both stories, showing the incredible work done by Nicholas in the months before the war, as well as creating a reflective character piece for an older Nicholas. For the first two acts, the film follows a standard structure to tell the story as it alternates between the two timelines, spending more time on the younger Nicholas as the older Nicholas reflects back on his deeds, but something changes when the film enters the final act.


In the final act, while the structure of the film still remains the same, the emotion of the story reaches an all time high, resulting in a final act that will forever change audiences. As Nicholas begins to be interviewed by the BBC about his work saving Jewish children, the true effect of Nicholas’s work is fully realized by the film, which sets off the water works. The way the film portrays these scenes is incredibly powerful, only bolstered by the fact that many of the actual children who were saved by Nicholas are used as extras in this scene, making the film’s pivotal scene not just a cinema recreation, but a moving piece of human history and a lasting tribute to one incredible man. Without a question, it is one of the most emotionally moving and beautiful scenes in recent memory that is guaranteed to leave audiences crying as they are taken by the profound effect of Nicholas’s deeds. 


The entire film comes together beautifully under Hawes’ direction, ensuring that for a second that the emotion of this incredible story is at the forefront of the film. Hawes avoids flashy filmmaking, instead focusing on the story and working with his cast to ensure that their stellar performances capture the emotion and profound nature of the story they are telling. But, it is exactly what this story needs and Hawes’ dedication to doing Nicholas Winton justice makes this one remarkable experience from start to finish. Aiding the direction is a great musical score from Volker Bertelmann which captures the emotion of the story at every turn, amplifying moments to ensure that the moving story becomes more powerful. Having come right off an Academy Award win for All Quiet on the Western Front, Bertelmann’s work on One Life continues to showcase his musical genius and his ability to enhance visual storytelling through his music.


With such a powerful story, it is no surprise that the film features marvellous performances from the lead cast. Anthony Hopkins is outstanding as the older version of Nicholas, reminiscing about his deeds. Hopkins plays him with a warmth, but hesitation to bring up his past as he does not think he deserves the recognition the media thinks he does. But when he gets that media spotlight, Hopkins is brilliant and makes those incredibly powerful films that much more powerful, proving yet again that there are very few actors as talented as him. Johnny Flynn is a terrific co-lead as the younger version of Nicholas, capturing the determination, resourcefulness and the selflessness of this young man performing these remarkable tasks. And as she is in every role, Helena Bonham Carter is a secret weapon as Nicholas’s mother Babette as she aids her son in his efforts as a force to be reckoned as she organizes and gets support from those in the British government. 

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a remarkable and moving true story on the big screen that highlights unbelievable human acts, and One Life delivers that in one of the most emotional theatrical experiences you have ever seen. From a powerful story about a remarkable during the Holocaust, tremendous performances from Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn and Helena Bonham Carter, and great direction from James Hawes, One Life is truly one story you will never forget thanks to the excellent efforts of the filmmaking team.

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