Often referred to as the British equivalent of Oskar Schindler, Sir Nicholas Winton certainly has a story worth telling borne from the same World War II era European strife and sadness. Responsible for rescuing 669 Jewish children from occupied Czechoslovakia via the Kindertransport, Winton was an unlikely hero to many, coming to realize the future fate of many Jews under Nazi rule as a 29 year old stockbroker who only went to Prague after his plans for a skiing trip fell through. From 1938 onward, his efforts were tireless and are still talked about by the many still alive that were spared by his efforts.
Narrated by Czech born CBC journalist and rescued child Joe Schlesinger, the documentary look back at Winton’s life in Nicky’s Family feels very much like it would be more at home on a TV screen, but the facts and stories at the heart of it certainly aren’t any less valid. Told through a series of tastefully done, nearly wordless historical recreations and largely through the words of dozens of now fully grown refugees and sometimes from the now 104 year old Winton himself (he’s still alive and even out doing speaking tours to this day), director Matej Mináč looks at one man’s efforts in the face of insurmountable bureaucratic manoeuvres and encroaching evil.
If there’s an assuredness to the material, that could be because this is the third time that Mináč has used Winton as a subject for a film. He definitely understands the story well enough by now, and his ability to give the survivors as much of a voice as his main hero works to the film’s favour. Instead of a simple regaling of how great of a guy Winton was, there’s a real essence of time and place being given by way of these first person accounts. It emphasizes the danger of being young and Jewish in an occupied country rather than just skipping to the absolute worst case scenario or how this man was able to save them.
It’s a film that probably won’t be around for very long (it’s only opening at the Kingsway theatre in Toronto’s west end for what’s likely to be a short engagement), but it’s worth it for World War II historical buffs who like more than a mere regurgitation of facts in their documentaries. For those so interested, it’s definitely a film worth coming back around to.