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TIFF 2023 Review: One Life – “It is in the flashbacks where the story excels”

British stockbroker Sir. Nicholas Winton remains haunted by his time spent in Prague to evacuate refugee children from the expansion of Nazi power in Europe just prior to the commencement of World War II. 

A son of immigrants to the UK and a career as a stockbroker, Nicholas Winton has been able to achieve a privileged lifestyle that he does not take for granted. A trip to Prague results in him witnessing squaller conditions for refugees displaced because of the expansion of the Nazi regime in Europe.  Determined to make a difference, Winton spurs an effort to have refugee children find temporary shelter in the UK which became more difficult as World War II erupted and the Nazis became more brazen with their final solution to achieve a pure Arian race.   Even as he is expecting his first grandchild, Winton wonders what to do with a scrapbook that serves as a document of the successes and failures of his rescue operation.

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The ending seeks to obtain Schindler’s List level of profound emotional release but falls short as there is quaintness to how everything falls into place.  Serious issues get mentioned but never quite get addressed like how many of the rescued children were reunited with their families after World War II.  The camera does not have to do much when following around Anthony Hopkins and there are no fancy moves with everything happening at the ground level where all of the action takes place rather than taking a bird’s eye view.  The pacing allows the principal cast to get the necessary screentime for the audience to get to know and care about them.

Getting to see the two Popes together again is never tiring as Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are a joy to watch and the audience is left wanting more.  The eyes of Hopkins are so expressive that he can be extremely subtle yet dramatically and mischievously impactful.  Johnny Flynn does an admirable job of portraying the younger Winton, an idealist driven by a determination that causes him to achieve what initially seemed like an impossible task and in the process experience a great deal of guilt over not being able to finish what he started. It is in the flashbacks where the story excels as it lacks the sentimentality that permeates the present-day scenes and instead focuses on the drama and urgency of the moment.

The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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