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Hauntingly accurate: Lord Dubs reviews 'One Life'

Anthony Hopkins as Nicholas Winton | Image courtesy of: Warner Bros Entertainment Inc

3 min read

This moving portrayal of Nicholas Winton, the man who saved hundreds of children’s lives during the Holocaust – including mine – holds an especially important message at this time

One Life is the story of Nicky Winton who, assisted by Trevor Chadwick, Martin Blake and others, saved the lives of 669 mostly Jewish refugee children, including myself, in the months and weeks running up to the start of the Second World War. Nicky and his team arranged for nine trains full of children to leave Prague for the safety of the United Kingdom. Tragically, the ninth train never left Prague station and most, perhaps all, of the children onboard perished in the Holocaust. Today it is estimated that 6,000 people – including my own children – have Nicky to thank for their lives.

It transported me back to Prague, as a six-year-old boy, waving goodbye to my mother at the station

For me, the experience of watching this film wasn’t like any other. I found it deeply emotional and personal. It transported me back to Prague, as a six-year-old boy, waving goodbye to my mother at the station. The film’s flashbacks to that period brought back intense memories, of my own journey, of my father who had managed to escape before me, of my aunt and uncle who were killed in or around 1942 in Auschwitz and of everyone we knew who fled or perished. As I watched those scenes, tears rolled down my face. This wasn’t a film I could say I enjoyed, rather it was a film that moved me to tears of gratitude and of horror. 

One LifeI was also very deeply moved by Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Nicky, a man I got to know well in his later years. Hopkins’ performance was uncanny; at times I had to pinch myself as a reminder that this was an actor rather than Nicky himself. Hopkins captured Nicky’s quiet, practical, dogged determination to rescue lives and the trauma I’ve no doubt that Nicky felt at the lives he hadn’t been able to save – including the children on the ninth train. It was hauntingly accurate. The Nicky I knew never tired, in his long life (he died aged 106), of advocating for the UK to do more to rescue child refugees. In the film Nicky’s mother, played beautifully and poignantly by Helena Bonham Carter, tried to console him with the Jewish saying, “Save one life, save the world” (no doubt the inspiration behind the film’s title) but Nicky’s advocacy was tireless. He never stopped hoping and working for a more compassionate world.

Which brings me to the last reason why I was so moved by the film. It feels like now is an especially important time to retell a story about the refusal to accept the needless killing of children and about the humanitarian importance of standing with refugees. I hope people will watch the film and understand that there are lessons relevant to today, about how we treat those fleeing war and persecution and about the choices we can make, both as individuals and as nations, to alleviate their suffering.

Lord Dubs is a Labour peer

One Life
Directed by: James Hawes
General cinema release: 5 January 2024

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