Home » Anthony Hopkins drama ‘One Life’ honors ‘British Schindler’ who saved over 600 children amid Holocaust

Anthony Hopkins drama ‘One Life’ honors ‘British Schindler’ who saved over 600 children amid Holocaust

'One Life'
“One Life” | Warner Bros

In an era marked by global unrest — particularly in the Middle East — the film “One Life,” which tells the true story of Nicholas Winton, who helped secure the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, amid the horrors of World War II, emerges as a profound narrative of hope and human resilience.

“I wish the film wasn’t so timely,” director James Hawes told The Christian Post. “But I guess what it tells you is the strength of history to teach us about where we are now, the power of the human spirit to endure.”

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Helena Bonham Carter, Alex Sharp and Romola Garai, “One Life” is based on the book If It’s Not Impossible … the Life of Sir Nicholas Winton. The film follows Winton, a young London stockbroker who would become an unsung hero of WWII, eventually earning him the moniker “the British Schindler.”

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Set against the backdrop of 1930s Europe on the brink of war, the film blends past and present, offering a stirring narrative that brings to life Winton’s extraordinary act of courage.

In flashbacks to 1970s England, viewers are introduced to an older Winton (Hopkins), who is reflecting on his past, a time when he was a much younger man in Czechoslovakia during the tense days of 1938-39.

Winton, alongside characters like Doreen (Garai) and Trevor (Sharp), finds himself leading an unlikely group of Czech and British volunteers. They are driven by a singular mission: to evacuate 669 children, predominantly Jewish, from Czechoslovakia to Britain. This act of bravery is further supported by Winton’s mother, Babette (Bonham Carter), who becomes an integral part of the mission from England.

The film explores the emotional depth of Winton’s experience, balancing themes of guilt, redemption, and grief while highlighting his heroic acts. He struggles with the memories of the children he wasn’t able to save. Though, by 1987, a staggering 6,000 people owed their lives to his selfless actions.

Winton, who died in 2015 at 106, had been widely recognized for his extraordinary deeds by the time of his death. In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for “services in humanity, in saving Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslolvokia.” 

“You meet this man who has an element of grief and regret and you’re not sure why,” Hawes said. “But you see his story through to his redemption and the celebration of what he’s achieved at the end.”

‘You don’t want it to be grim fest, but equally, you’ve got to characterize this character who’s carrying this burden of darkness from his own history, and then that becomes part of the story,” he added. “There are some powerful scenes for me where he’s faced with the truth of what probably happened to the children he didn’t manage to save, and he has to walk away from that question. And he says this very powerful thing: ‘I’ve tried to put a lid on that because to remain useful, I can’t allow myself to imagine what happened next.’ You meet quite an intriguing portrayal of grief and regret. At the same time, you get this dynamic story of the Prague rescue and the saving of children.”

Though it’s a Holocaust film, “One Life’ refrains from graphically depicting atrocities, opting instead for an approach that makes the narrative more palatable and less graphic for viewers (it’s rated PG). There are several scenes depicting the conditions in the refugee camps, the violence of the Nazi invasion, and the emotional toll on Winton himself.

In one particularly heart-wrenching scene, parents bid farewell to their children at a train station, sending them off to safety as they themselves face an uncertain future. Garai told CP the scene was particularly memorable as it was filmed in the actual location where the event took place, decades ago. 

“These children were 3 or 4 years old, and hundreds of children were crowded onto the main train station in Prague and they had to say goodbye to their families,” she said. “Their parents had to put them on these trains and wave goodbye to them, sending them to travel across Europe, through Nazi Germany, to Britain to foster families in the U.K. We recreated those scenes on the platform where that event actually occurred with hundreds of children dressed up in period outfits. It was truly eerie and quite emotionally overwhelming for everyone involved.”

Through “One Life,” Hawes said he wanted to honor Winton and the collective effort of those who stood with him while celebrating the triumph of humanity and compassion in the face of overwhelming adversity.

“I think you learn that you, as an individual, never do quite enough, that you can be disappointed with yourself and want to do more,” the director said. “I don’t want to sermonize, but it does challenge you to be more active when you talk about what’s grim in the world. Well, what are you doing to try and put that right? It’s not enough to make judgments on what’s wrong out there. It’s about finding ways, little ways, just achievable ways that you can try and improve it, and that was very much Nicholas’ ethos.”

And both Hawes and Garai emphasized the film’s relevance in today’s sociopolitical climate. It’s a story that, though set in the past, carries a timeless message, they said, a call to action to every person to use their life for the greater good.

“The film is a poignant reminder of the ongoing cycles of violence and the power of individual intervention,” Garai said.

Hawes added, “I hope viewers re-examine what we mean by the word ‘refugee,’ because it conjures, especially in today’s politics, so many negative dark and threatening things.

“When you look at it, Nicholas Winton, who did all this extraordinary good work, was himself a first-generation child of refugees. The children he saved have gone on in this country and around the world, in the United States, Canada and Israel to become real contributors to society, scientists, journalists, artists and politicians. Those were all refugees. We need to recalibrate how we approach that problem in a world that is so much more interconnected than it once was.”

“One Life” hits theaters on March 15. Watch the trailer below.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com