Thursday, June 27, 2013

Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver

Teresa Wright won the Oscar on her second/third Oscar nomination (she was also nominated for her lead performance this year in The Pride of the Yankees) for her performance as Carol Beldon in William Wyler's  Best Picture winning Mrs. Miniver. It's easy to see why Miniver waltzed to 6 Oscar wins, it's an film that so effectively plays on the emotions of a world at war with it's message of unity between all classes, countries, and genders against the Axis powers. I happen to actually enjoy the film on it's own merits as well, mostly because of my growing fascination with Greer Garson. Her lead performance in this film is just so gorgeously realized, and her Oscar so richly deserved. Also along for her trip to the Oscars were four of her costars, but Teresa Wright was the only one to also cop a statuette (or plaque in the case of the supporting categories until 1943) for her performance as the good-natured and beautiful but tragically fated Carol Beldon.

Just like Gladys Cooper's, Wright's nomination serves as a perfect example of one of Oscar's favorite types of roles in this category, in her case the supportive girlfriend/wife (see also: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Winona Ryder). And really, is there any actress better suited to play a part like Carol Beldon than Teresa Wright? Carol is a sweet and intelligent young woman who, despite her high standing in society is still generous and openhearted. Wright's delicate beauty and innocent looks make her well suited for such a charming character. From the first moment Carol walks into the Miniver family's life, we are as instantly charmed as they are. Through that entire first meeting, in which Carol is attempting to convince the Minivers to drop out of the rose competition for the sake of her aunt, Wright manages to be so wholesome and winning, wonderfully expressing the genuine place that Carol is coming from, and managing to make her less than honorable request seem almost noble. Carol knows she should not be asking this of the Minivers, but cares for her aunt so greatly. Carol has a way of doing this for the rest of the film, winning over everyone she comes in contact with by simply being so genuinely enchanting and wholesome.

The most meat of the performance comes from her handling of the romance between Carol and Vin Miniver (Richard Ney). Vin Miniver is a high minded intellectual straight from university, who looks down upon the upper classes as elitist and uncaring for the lower classes, an he immediately calls out Carol's attempt as a way of exerting upper class power to stifle the lower classes. I just love the way Wright keeps calm and benevolent in the face of Vin's so rude and immature outburst against her. She instantly recognizes that his rudeness is merely enthusiasm and a bit of showing off for her sake, and calmly and sweetly shoots down his criticisms. She plays so well of Vin's slightly dopey persona and as their relationship develops into a romantic one, we can see why Carol would be so charmed by Vin's youthful enthusiasm and sweetness. Wright so effectively shows Carol being won over by this goodhearted dork.

For the rest of the film, we remain charmed by Wright's purity and love for Vin over and over again, and that is primarily the biggest criticism of this performance--it's one note nature. I completely agree that this is a part without a little depth on the page, but I still admire so much what Wright manages to do with such a pure yet  toothless part. She's great in all of her quiet moments (admittedly, most of her performance), never pulling attention to herself but constantly working hard to keep Carol's reactions coming from a place of love. She has one final great scene in which she expresses how much love and devotion she has to Vin, and Wright absolutely knocks it out of the park. You can feel how much honest love she has for Vin, and her desperate need to spend as much time as possible with him before the war possibly tears them apart. Her death scene is nothing too special, but you definitely feel the sadness and loss felt when Carol is gone. The subtle impact she has had on the film is tangible and so important.

Teresa Wright's performance is Mrs. Miniver is beautiful supporting work, nothing too flashy or groundbreaking but effortlessly important to her film. She's playing a very one-note character and somehow manages to add heart and humanity to the character while still playing her part very well. It's a lovely and subtle performance that leaves an emotional mark at the end of the film felt through all of the characters reactions to her death, and yours too. Teresa Wright does well to keep her character grounded in reality, never falling for histrionics or huge displays of emotion but instead remaining steadfast in her serenity and optimism. Carol Beldon is not a great character, but through Teresa Wright's performance she still is an important and impactful one nonetheless. 4/5 Thelmas.

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