‘One Life’

Anthony Hopkins as Sir Nicholas Winton in “One Life”
Anthony Hopkins as Sir Nicholas Winton in “One Life”

Following its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, the biographical drama "One Life" was greeted with quite a bit of praise from critics. Deservedly so. Now audiences in the States get their chance to experience this outstanding, heart-wrenching drama that once again highlights Anthony Hopkins as one of our greatest living actors.

Directed by James ("Black Mirror") Hawes, "One Life" is based on the book "If It's Not Impossible...: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton" by Barbara Winton. It tells the fascinating true story of humanitarian Nicholas Winton, a London stockbroker who was instrumental in the rescue of 669 children, mostly Jewish, from Prague in the shadow of Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia.

A little historical background: in 1938, following the Nazi occupation of Austria, Hitler wanted possession of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. In their misjudged hopes of avoiding war, Britain, France and Italy gave in to Hitler's demands. The very next day Nazi forces were marching into Czechoslovakia sending tens of thousands of predominantly Jewish refugees, many of them children, fleeing toward unoccupied Prague. Once there the homeless and starving refugees gathered with the worst of winter still to come and under the looming threat of a Nazi invasion.

Co-written by Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake, "One Life" blends two inseparable timelines. One is set in 1987 where an elderly Nicholas Winton (Hopkins) lives in Maidenhead, England with his wife Grete (an outstanding Lena Olin). The other is set in 1938 where a 29-year-old Nicholas (played by Johnny Flynn) is determined to travel to Prague after hearing of the humanitarian crisis. As the scenes with the elder Nicholas show a man haunted by the children he wasn't able to help save, the scenes with the younger Nicholas highlight the courageous work he did to save as many children as he could.

Hopkins delivers yet another powerful performance -- an awards-worthy turn that's subtle yet rich and emotionally layered. He carries Winton's immense regret with sincerity and humility, showing him to be burdened by the weight of a reality he can't come to terms with. Several moments help depict this part of Winton's life including some superb scenes with his wife, Grete, and one particularly good scene with an old friend, Martin Blake (played by the great Jonathan Pryce in a "The Two Popes" reunion). And it all culminates in a finish that's equal parts uplifting and crushing.

As for the scenes with the younger Nicholas, Hawes covers ample ground in giving us a comprehensive account of his selfless and harrowing efforts in Prague and in London. Flynn is excellent as an idealistic and driven Nicholas who is moved to action after seeing firsthand the number of endangered children. And Hawes shows Nicholas' work wasn't possible without the help of others including his straightforward and persuasive mother Babi (Helena Bonham Carter), Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai), the head of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, and Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp), a crucial player in getting the children out of German-occupied Czechoslovakia.

As the two-pronged story unfolds, Hawes puts a lot of effort into re-creating his dual settings. The costume and production designs are key, as is the director's ability to convey the tensions and emotions unique to each period. In some ways its framework resembles that of other bio-pics that came before it. But Winton's story is inherently moving and the movie sticks close to it, touching us with his compassion, inspiring us by his diligence and courage, and shattering us with a cathartic release that feels honest and earned.

Through the years there has been no shortage of films dealing with the Holocaust. That's a good thing, because as movies like "One Life" remind us, there are still affecting and consequential stories worth telling. Yes, there's a slight by-the-numbers quality to this one and some may grumble that it keeps its hands a little too clean. But Hawes trusts his audience to fill in the gaps. And we get everything we need from Hopkins and Flynn and the undeniable kinship between their two portrayals. Hopkins gives us something particularly special -- another sublime performance to be cherished from a beloved actor who never seems to disappoint.

More News


Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Lena Olin, Romola Garai, Alex Sharp, Marthe Keller, Jonathan Pryce, Helena Bonham Carter

Director: James Hawes

Rating: PG

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

In English, German and Czech, with English subtitles

Playing theatrically


Upcoming Events