One Life | Picturehouse Recommends

Anthony Hopkins stars in a tender portrait of an unsung hero in this pitch-perfectly poignant historical drama.

Neil Smith

04 Jan 24

James Hawes

Release Date
05 January


Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Olin


Running Time
109 mins

You may have seen a clip from a 1988 edition of the BBC's That's Life, in which host Esther Rantzen surprises an elderly man in the studio audience. She tells him that the strangers sitting around him were some of the children he helped save from the Nazis in the months leading up to World War II.

The man was Sir Nicholas "Nicky" Winton, an unassuming bureaucrat turned tireless champion for the voiceless, whose remarkable acts of humanity and decency were only recognised and celebrated when he had already reached his late seventies.

Now his story comes to the screen in One Life, a moving historical drama with an inspirational message that speaks to a moment when the global refugee crisis is once again at the forefront of our minds.

Juxtaposing two periods in Nicky's life separated by 50 years, James Hawes' film shows the younger Winton (Johnny Flynn) travel to what was then Czechoslovakia to help his friend Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp) and Trevor's associate Doreen Warinner (Romola Garai) arrange visas and transport for Jewish children at risk of persecution and worse.

A half-century on, the older Nicholas (Anthony Hopkins), still haunted by guilt that he could have done more, is persuaded by his wife Grete (Lena Olin) to dispose of his personal papers. This task brings him to the attention of the BBC and a certain much- watched programme.

Dubbed the "British Schindler" for his humanitarian efforts, Winton never sought the limelight and always ensured his colleagues received just as much attention as he did. ("Nicky would be the first person to say he wasn't alone," says Hawes.) He was, in short, a quiet hero, played by Hopkins with an understated calm that recalls his restrained performances in Shadowlands and The Remains Of The Day.

Flynn, by contrast, is a man with a deadline whose race against time is reflected in the urgency director of photography Zac Nicholson injects into the 1930s scenes. "The clock is ticking so the camera is handheld for most of the time," explains Hawes. "He's an active young man and the camera travels with him, on his shoulder."

A crucial part of Nicky's campaign was his formidable mother, Babi, who worked back home to raise the funds and awareness needed to bring the children to safety. "They both had a huge amount of chutzpah," says actress Helena Bonham Carter, who portrays Babi in the film. "She instilled in him a sense of confidence that he could do whatever he set his mind to." Olin plays another strong woman in his life who, in her own way, spurs him into action. Samantha Spiro provides one more striking female presence with her spot-on depiction of Rantzen in the film's recreations of those memorable That's Life! broadcasts.

On platform one of Prague's central railway station, there is a statue of Winton carrying a little boy with a young girl standing beside them. At his feet sits a large suitcase, a testament to the 669 children he and his cohorts rescued from the Holocaust. Unveiled in 2009, the memorial – like One Life itself – ensures Nicky's courage and compassion will never be forgotten.

"I hope this will send a message lest we forget, because we forget so quickly," muses Hopkins, a two-time Oscar winner who could be due yet more accolades for his finely judged, elegant performance.   Neil Smith

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One Life is in cinemas from 5 Jan Book Now!