There have been a lot of movies based on the world war this year at TIFF. James Hawes’ latest feature follows the same trend. One Life is based on the true story of Nicholas Winton, an idealistic 20-something man of Jewish heritage who ends up rescuing 669 children from Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is based on the book ‘If It’s Not Impossible’, by Barbara Winton his daughter who was also involved in the production until her death in the middle of the production of the movie. It follows 2 separate timelines, one in 1938 and the other in the 1980s.
The story starts in the 1980s with Winton struggling to get over something the people that he couldn’t save. We then go back in time to when he was visiting Prague in 1938 for some charity work. During his trip, he comes across several families who fled Germany and Austria in search of safety. All he finds among the streets of Prague is destruction, starvation, and struggle. Devastated by what he sees, he decides to help in whatever capacity he could. He prioritizes saving the children and finds people who could help him achieve this extremely difficult task.
Johnny Flynn portrays the younger version of Nicholas Winton. He is measured and calm, but also brings a lot of kindness to his demeanor, especially when he’s around the children. He takes most of the screen time in the first 2 acts. Anthony Hopkins on the other hand brings a lot more range to his performance. He goes through so many emotions throughout this movie, but he is absolutely convincing in each and every emotional moment.
James Hawes’ direction is inconsistent, but he does deliver some striking visuals and close up shots that elevate the emotional impact of some scenes. The production design is stellar, especially in the Prague based parts. The costumes and makeup are also commendable. The movie has pacing issues especially in the first 2 acts. It is definitely at its weakest in the first act. It starts to get going once we see Winton’s efforts to rescue those in need.
The narrative not only focuses on how Winton rescued all those children from Prague, but it also equally focuses on how it impacted everyone’s lives even 40 years later. The third act mostly deals with how Winton is struggling to decide what to do with his scrapbook that documents all the events that took place during the rescue, including images of children he saved. Hawes recreated the famous scene from the classic British TV show ‘That’s Life!’, and that scene leaves you with goosebumps.
But that is exactly the issue with this movie, it is strong only in parts and most of those parts come in the second half. The rescue scenes are not the most exciting, the Direction is inconsistent, it is very slow for most parts and there isn’t much in the story apart from Nicholas Winton. The story definitely deserves to be told and Anthony Hopkins is great casting but it probably would’ve been equally impactful with a short film plus the iconic That’s Life scene.
One Life is an important yet inconsistent Biopic elevated by a powerful performance by Anthony Hopkins. The story is undeniably moving and inspiring, but the tame direction and dull storytelling hold it back from being a great biopic. But it’s worth a watch for Anthony Hopkins’ performance and the inspiring true story.