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‘One Life’: The most salvageable aspect, Mr. Anthony Hopkins

A prosperous English stockbroker set out in 1939 to seek shelter in British homes for hundreds of Jewish children living in Prague. The film is based on a true story, but it lacks emotion

Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins in 'One Life.'Peter Mountain
Carlos Boyero

Not being able (nor wanting) to resort to the internet, an inexhaustible and now exclusive source of information, I usually have no idea what I’m going to see at press screenings. I attend them most of the time in a state of virginity. And sometimes I come out drowsy, or indifferent, or blaspheming. As such, I was not aware of the plot of One Life. It is due to chance, or to my love for what seems to me to be great cinema, that an evening earlier I had reviewed at home Goodbye, Children, that moving masterpiece by Louis Malle.

And in recent months I have also suffered again through the harrowing Schindler’s List and The Pianist. And my eyes watered again at the end of Goodbye, Children, with the boy and his Jewish friend saying goodbye almost furtively, and forever, with his gaze and his little hand, on their way to the extermination camps, along with two other disguised Jewish children and the priest who hid and protected them. It is marvelous how Malle narrates, with such credibility, depth and complexity, a story so full of life, so joyful, and so sad.

Los niños de Winton
Johnny Flynn and Helena Bonham Carter in 'One Life.'

Impregnated by the images and sounds of the previous film, I discover within a few minutes that One Life also deals with the monstrosity of the Holocaust. The story recounted here is apparently true, although the filmmakers logically allow themselves some license. An English citizen, a prosperous stockbroker, set out in 1939 to seek refuge in British homes for hundreds of Jewish children in Prague, destined to be savaged by Nazi barbarism when Czechoslovakia was invaded. Nicholas Winton, helped by his resolute and humanist mother, circumvented the bureaucracy, dreamed up escape routes, tirelessly sought the solidarity of English families willing to take them in, and managed to evacuate 669 children clandestinely by train. He never publicized his feat, but he jealously guarded in his memory and through multiple documents everything that had taken place. He remained anonymous until the 1980s when a famous BBC television program, in which he agreed to be interviewed, allowed him to discover the past and the present of those children, whom he had never heard anything about again.

The story and its glorious denouement bring together a multitude of dramatic and humanistic elements to make the viewer melt, but in my case it doesn’t happen. What director James Hawes recounts is very transcendent (his resume includes several episodes of the uneven television series Black Mirror, I do not know whether the best or worst of them), but he does so in an academic way, with a tendency to the conventional, failing to provoke either warmth of frigidity in me even if he resorts abusively to music, that easy resource, to convey emotion to the viewer.

What is difficult to ignore is the presence of the aging Anthony Hopkins. Winton — an introverted, anti-exhibitionist, native-born, enlightened, tenacious and honest man, in zealous possession of a memory committed to history and to his extraordinary and generous experiences — is made believable by the presence of Hopkins. Yes, the most fascinating cannibal in the history of cinema. Hopkins is a pleasure to watch. As is Helena Bonham Carter, pure and timeless class, playing Winton’s collaborating mother. The Holocaust theme should be inexhaustible. But it is better if directors like Spielberg, Polanski, Malle and, more recently, Jonathan Glazer with The Zone of Interest take it on. And it would be desirable that films and series also portray the massacre of children that is being perpetrated in Gaza, although this subject is still too raw to see the light of day on-screen.

'One Life'

Director: James Hawes.

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Lena Olin, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Steed. 

Genre: Drama. United Kingdom, 2023.

Runtime: 109 minutes.

Release date: March 22 (Spain), March 15 (USA).

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